DIA Free WiFi isn’t worth the price.

Internet access has become a prerequisite. I won’t stay in a hotel that doesn’t have it. And I’m to the point where I would consider avoiding an airport where access is problematic. I recently found myself sitting at gate B50 in Denver, waiting for a United flight to take me back to Albuquerque. ABQ has free WiFi with no strings attached. I don’t need to pay Boingo, AT&T or T-Mobile and all the ports seem to work.

Not so in Denver. I’m a T-Mobile customer and bought the full Internet Monty so that I could surf at Starbucks and Borders. There are corners of DIA where my subscription does the trick, but at this particular gate the only option is the “Free” DIA application. If this is any indication of how the muni solutions will work, I want no part of it.

First you have to endure the 30 second video commercial. Thankfully there is a mute option so you can silence the audio. But from then on, your browser is polluted with an ad that takes up the top 5th of your screen. This is made possible by something called an “Internet Content Adaptation Protocol” server. ICAP captures your web page request and transforms it, sending the adapted content back to your browser. The truly annoying rub is that you can’t surf at all if the ICAP server that dishes up the ads isn’t available. That happened to me when I had a half dozen windows open and was in the middle of working on a project. The issue seemed to be limited to port 80, my Google Talk worked and the FTP and remote desktop clients chugged along just fine… but no browsing.

Also, the one power plug pair in the gate area was dead. The only relevant content I could see was the battery indicator slowly work its way to empty.

Another reminder that when it comes to “free” Internet access, you get what you pay for.