Panera is a chain of sandwich shops that are a lttle bit more upscale than most, but still a very reasonably priced place to stop for lunch. They have free WiFi. I'm not sure if they have it in all their locations, but they have it in every location that I've been to. And let me repeat this... It's free. Unlike Starbucks which I took great advantage of last summer, but had to pay for in daily increments. Unlike McDonalds, where some of the stores have WiFi available for hourly fees. Panera's wireless is free as in beer.
Panera came to the rescue for me recently. I booked a hotel in Albany that had high-speed Internet connections in the guest rooms. When I plugged my laptop in, however, there was no signal light. I switched from the hotel-provided cable to my own drop cable -- never go anywhere without one -- there was no signal light. I plugged a mini-hub that I happened to have with me into the wall jack, and there was no signal light. I plugged my laptop into the mini-hub and there was a signal light. That constitutes absolute proof that the problem is on their end, so I went down to the front desk and told them that the port was dead, and that I was going to go out to dinner and if they couldn't get the port turned on by the time I got back I would expect to be transferred to another room. When the assistant manager suggested that we go back to the room to check if it was just a loose wire, my exact words were "I'm pretty sure that I build my first ethernet and connected it to the Internet before you were in the first grade. I'm telling you that it's not a loose wire. You should believe me and not waste any time checking on it. It's a dead port."
I went driving along the main drag near my hotel and found a Panera restaurant. I went in and used the free wireless. I replicated my mail and other databases. And I had an Italian Combo sandwich. No more low carb ;-)
When I got back to the hotel, I found the assistant manager. He told me that I was right. The port was dead. (Duh!) And so, I switched to another room. The port there was live. The signal light came right on and ipconfig showed that I had acquired an IP address, and so I started a browser, as one has to do for all these hotel setups, whether they're free or not. An error page came up. Another conversation with the assistant manager, and I learned that other guests are now complaining, too. It seems that the whole system is down. The provider will be there in the moring to "fix" it. I'm sure that that just involves a reboot, which I'm sure I could have done if someone would unlock the equipment closet for me, but I'm equally sure that there would be no point in even suggesting that.
The hotel actually had free wireless in the lobby, from a different provider. This was working, but I really prefer working in the privacty of my room. Plus, I don't really want to say good things about the hotel. I'd rather praise Panera. With everything replicated, I was able to be productive in my room -- while watching the Yankee game :-) This is not the first time I've had connectivity problems at a hotel. I've never had connectivity problems at a Panera restaurant. I think that from now on I might start making a routine check for the nearest Panera location when I plan my business travel.