June 01, 2004
Wi-Fi parks

If I had to guess where this was happening, Austin would have been my first guess. Hell, it would have been my second and third guesses, too.

Free wireless Internet access has come to Austin's oldest park, where nature apparently is no longer enough to draw people into the urban outdoors.

"In these economically challenging times, we're still able to think outside the box and come up with new ways to enhance the park user's experience," said Jay Stone, acting assistant director of the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

Stone said turning four downtown parks into free wireless hotspots is costing taxpayers only city staff time.

The project's $3,000 primary cost is underwritten by the Austin-based Schlotzsky's deli sandwich chain, which says it is the first national chain restaurant to offer free, wireless Internet access.

Hmm. I distinctly remember hearing that McDonald's was going to offer Wi-Fi with its burgers and fries. Perhaps Schlotzsky's isn't making you buy something first. I'm not sure how that helps them sell more sandwiches, but it is cool.

For Schlotzsky's, the project is a matter of marketing goodwill in a city that claims more free wireless Internet hotspots -- 114 by one recent count -- than any other city worldwide.

"I think it's because we're so hip, and we're on the cutting edge as a technology center here," said the restaurant's spokeswoman, Monica Landers. "I think Austinites love to be on the cutting edge."

Well, there you go.

So, will Houstonians be able to soon send romantic e-mail messages while sitting next to Hermann Park's duck pond?

"No. In a nutshell, no," said Shirley Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. "It sounds like a really novel idea, but with 57 community centers in Houston, it's just not something that we could consider at this time. We're having trouble even getting computers into these sites."

Hmph. All I know is that Dallas better not get wi-fi parks before Houston does. Some things just can't be tolerated.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Schlotzsky's was offering Wi-Fi, at least in Austin, before McDonald's was, so the article's assertion about Schlotzsky's being the first to do so is correct.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 01, 2004 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack


This is something I didn't know about (and I live in Austin). Thanks for the news!

Schlotzsky's has been offering free Wi-fi for over a year (maybe 2 years). The theory is that people will come in for the WiFi, drink a few cups of coffee (maybe eat lunch) and leave. Additionally, the number of visitors at a free WiFi place is significantly higher than a pay WiFi place. Surely someone will buy a sandwich. :)

Posted by: Mike on June 1, 2004 5:11 PM

Next fast food product: Wi-Fries™.

Seriously, I don't know much about Wi-Fi, but aren't there security issues?

Posted by: Steve Bates on June 1, 2004 6:56 PM


If you use a personal firewall, Wi-Fi is not a problem in a park.

New York City has several Wi-Fi parks (including Bryant Park next to the main branch of the New York Public Library) and several sites in lower Manhattan.

You might not want to hear this, but Starbucks (BOOO!) offers free Wi-Fi in their locations. Too bad the coffee is horrible.

Posted by: William Hughes on June 1, 2004 7:35 PM

Schlotzky's was offereing free Wi-Fi before I left Austin, almost two years ago. At the time they were touting not only free in-store Wi-Fi, but were mounting external antennae to cover several hundred surrounding feet. This seems to be a natural extensions of that.

Posted by: David on June 2, 2004 8:32 AM


I haven't been in a Starbucks in about 3 or 4 months, but the last time I was there, it was for pay. If they've started to offer it for free, good for them.


Posted by: Mike on June 2, 2004 8:37 AM

Mike - If it interests you, check out the Austin Bloggers site http://www.austinbloggers.org/ . There were a couple mentions of this. Also, there is a new Austin Community Technology blog at http://www.ctiaustin.org/ . There are some articles on it there.

Also, you're right about Starbucks. They are using the T-Mobile service. It's $6/hr or $10/day.

Posted by: chip on June 3, 2004 9:50 AM