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Why is free wireless still not a default service?

While much of the corporate world was reeling from the credit meltdown in the United States early this week, I was left pretty much removed from the hubbub. Tucked away in a small Chinese territory southwest of Hong Kong, I was in Macau for a much-needed vacation.

While much of the corporate world was reeling from the credit meltdown in the United States early this week, I was left pretty much removed from the hubbub. Tucked away in a small Chinese territory southwest of Hong Kong, I was in Macau for a much-needed vacation.

During my five-day stay, I had no Internet access, no e-mail access and didn't catch a single glimpse of a Web page. If it wasn't for cable TV in my hotel room, the stunning fall of AIG, Merrill Lynch and the Lehman Brothers would have totally escaped me.

The isolation wasn't the result of a lack of Internet connectivity. And I had brought along my UMPC so I was all prepared to log in and check in on work when I had the chance to. But, I was only prepared to do so if there was free wireless access--something I thought would be highly likely since the hotel I stayed at was fairly new. Not quite so, apparently.

The Venetian Macau officially opened in August last year, boasting 3,000 suites and 1.2 million square feet of convention space. Owned by the Las Vegas Sands group and modeled after its sister building along the Vegas Strip, The Venetian Macau is the largest single structure hotel building in Asia and currently houses the world's biggest casino stretching 550,000 square feet. Guests at the US$2.4 billion hotel can also browse through some 350 shops that span across 1.6 million square feet of retail space.

Impressive as those numbers may sound, the one thing The Venetian Macau doesn't provide is free wireless access. Guests will have to fork out HK$160 (US$20.6) for 24-hour Internet service.

It's ironic that the past few three- and four-star hotels I stayed at in Europe and the United States, while comparatively smaller and less grandeur than their five-star big-brand peers, offered their guests free wireless access.

There's really no reason why new hotel buildings like The Venetian Macau, constructed in the last five to eight years, can't include in their blueprint the infrastructure that will allow them to provide free Internet access.

And in the case of The Venetian Macau, funds were obviously not an issue. For instance, instead of using boring static directory boards, interactive high-tech touch-screen panels lined the hotel's retail space, providing visitors the location as well as related details of every shop at The Venetian.

There must have been hundreds of these touch-screen panels peppered throughout the hotel because there was just about one every 100 meters or so.

So why doesn't it throw in free Internet access? Perhaps The Venetian wants its guests to focus their time on the resort hotel's network of 3,400 slot machines and 800 gaming tables.

Whatever the reason, it's time companies that engage in high customer-contact services like hotels and banks, start thinking about Internet access as a basic service that should be provided for free. This will become increasingly pertinent as more countries such as Singapore, embark on nationwide initiatives to offer free wireless services.

On the up side, thanks to The Venetian, I enjoyed a rare serene moment absolutely free from the Web. It was lover-ly.