Monday, January 16, 2012

WiFi Mystery at the Hilversum Starbucks

I remember reading last year about the roll out of free Wifi at Starbucks in the UK, following a trend in the US and Canada. Yes the coffee is outrageously expensive, but you can get out the iPad or the MacBook Air and catch up with e-mails or check the website of the next destination. The idea of free WiFi is still alien to most Dutch hotels, even though Amsterdam and the surroundings is bidding for more and more business from the creative industries and hosts major media related exhibitions like ISE and IBC

Starbucks came late to the Netherlands. The first store opened in 2007 inside Schiphol Airport, expanding to 5 premises in the airport premises. The next step was to expand to locations at train stations. Three popped up in Amsterdam, one each in Leiden, Den Haag, Utrecht, and Groningen. Late last year Starbucks arrived at Hilversum station, billed as Holland's Media city although we're still waiting to find out the long-term ambitions of the city council.

Time to try out a Chai Tea Latte. And a muffin. And the WiFi. Ah, no. "You can't have a WiFi code because we don't have WiFi! " says the Starbucks server with a smile. Why not? Because the building is owned by Dutch railways (NS) and they have done an exclusive deal with KPN Hotspots who charge ordinary customers 1.15 Euros for 15 minutes of connection time. 

What most people don't know is that if you have an Internet account with providers like XS4ALL or KPN, access to 1000 of these WiFi hotspots in the Netherlands is actually free. I know because I found the text buried on the third page of the KPN Hotspots website. That would apply to me. Except that there's no WiFi signal in the Hilversum Starbucks that my iPad can detect. It's WiFi- free rather than free WiFi. Oh, well. When will it change? The store manager says he hopes the contract will be changed by the end of 2012. Until then, the KPN Hotspot seems to be at the snack bar round the corner in the station foyer. Believe me, you don't want to get out an iPad anywhere there. 
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