Hotel Web Sites: What’s the Deal with Net Access?

Next week, I’ll be traveling to New Orleans for the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists, which this year will be held at the Astor Crowne Plaza – apparently a very fine hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

It’s been my unfortunate experience that Internet access at hotels is often flaky, complex, or unexpectedly costly. I never seem to know quite what the situation will be until I get there.

Net access has become a necessity for many kinds of travelers. It’s no longer a nicety, but a core service that could easily make or break someone’s decision to stay at a given hotel. So here’s what I wish: That hotels would routinely list on their Web sites, in an easy-to-find place, exactly what the deal is with Net access from their guest rooms, and how much it really costs.

Specifically, here’s what I’d like to see on a page hypothetically titled About our Internet Access:

  • Type of access offered: Network connection (i.e., Ethernet), wireless, or dialup.

  • Cost: How, and how much, are guests charged for Net access from their rooms? Is there a flat fee per day? Is it a cost per minute, or per access session? If access is dialup, is there a cheaper rate offered for modem calls, and what do you need to enter into the phone to get that lower rate?

  • Average connection speed: That is, what you really get in terms of average baud rate per guest room, plus the potential high and low speed.

  • Setup: Where’s the access port in the room? How do you use it? Do you need to bring your own network cable? What kind? (Photos might be helpful here.) If Net access is by dialup, how do you need to configure your modem setup? (It’s always best to be able to do that in advance, before hitting the road, if possible.)

  • Connection reliability: Many times I’ve been to hotels that advertise “in-room Net access” only to find that the network is down most of the time. How many network outages has the hotel experienced in, say, the last six months? How long did the average outage last?

I don’t recall ever seeing a hotel Web site that offered this information in a clear, honest way – but if I did, and I liked what I saw, chances are good that I would select a hotel based in large measure on the quality and cost of its Net access. It’s that important to me, especially when I’m working on the road.

I’m tired of the guesswork – especially the inevitable hour or more when I arrive at a hotel, spent trying to puzzle out how to get my e-mail. Most of all, I’m tired of being whalloped with a huge fee just for getting my e-mail and spending a couple of hours doing online research from my room!