So, Starbucks made their splashy announcement that they’re ditching T-Mobile for AT&T and by this Spring (a little later for Hawaii) will offer two hours of free internet with a purchase of $3.99 or more. As cutting edge as they were by taking that Seattle gourmet coffee habit and spreading the addiction to a world ready and willing to spend 2-3 times what they used to on a cuppa joe, this company had been a little slow on the draw when it came to certain aspects of running business in the modern world. Most every coffee shop, at least in major cities, knows a good coffee buzz and net surfing go together and therefor don’t make it difficult for customers to grab their coffee and check their email at the same time. Yes, quality coffee is a priority, but free internet and a nice atmosphere (with adequate electrical outlets and comfy seats) to inspire one’s next great blog post is equally important.
It’s a different sort of aminal when it comes to small towns. There are less options, less competition, and it’s filled with imprudent owners who think it wise to nickle-and-dime potentially faithful clientele for an internet connection as a means to bolster profits. So, on the Big Island for example, with limited locations, you see the places that are evolved enough to offer free WiFi (or WiFi with purchase) are typically busy all day long.
The thing that irks me about Starbucks, is that while they take a few steps forward with this internet plan, they’re taking a few steps back in the way in which they are implementing it. See, the new deal goes: You must purchase one of their plastic Starbucks store cards with a $5 minimum on it in order to qualify for access! The idea is that you will buy the card, pay for your $2-4 coffee, and then proceed to lose the card or throw it in a drawer with some money still on it – free profit for them. And though it is “recyclable” in the sense that you can certainly reload the card, the majority of people will never use it again, and instead will ask for a new one the next time they go in.
Hey, on an island, we don’t need any more unnecessary waste in our landfills; toxins seeping into our groundwater and ocean. Starbucks should give an internet code on any receipt of $3.99 or more and leave it at that (since they still automatically print receipts). Starbucks makes enough money – $2.8 billion first quarter fiscal 2008 seems decent – while strangely, their many-paged investor relations release never once mentions the environmental concerns of doing business.
Don’t get me wrong, Starbucks has made efforts to be eco-friendly, but activists had to work long and hard to get them to pay attention to the importance of purchasing Fair Trade, for example. And while the company now goes over-board to publicize their efforts, it’s still a limited portion of their coffee sold (ask for a cup of Fair Trade next time you go in there, they’ll likely have to French Press you up one special). As far as recycling goes, they’ve been equally slow. On the plus side, they recycle their cardboards, repack grounds for garden fertilizer, and made the eco-gesture of using 10% recycled paper in their cups. But they utilize 2.3 billion paper cups annually, and their cups are still not recyclable. As the world leaders, claiming awareness to the cause, they should set the highest standards. Sure, perhaps the expense could be a hit on their billions, but how is it these smaller coffee shops are willing and able to take on the challenge?
Fact of the matter is, whenever there is an option available, conscious customers (especially those of the green generation) will opt for the small local coffee shops. The good ones now all use compostable non-petroleum lined paper cups, fair-trade / organic local coffee, and offer internet with no plastic cards or limits. Not to be too negative, because where there are meager options, as is the case on much of the Big Island, it’s a good thing that Starbucks will now offer more than an indulgent soy mocha for my five bucks (and since I’m staying to connect, I’ll ask for it in a ceramic mug). Now I can get some work done and not worry that AWS (Hawai’i Island’s kinda pricey wireless service) is coming in sketchy. Or that I’ll ever again get suckered into paying for T-Mobile (any company, á la AOL, that makes it very difficult to figure out how to cancel your monthly subscription is not one to support! We’ll have to see how AT&T, typically incompetent with their accounting, does with the service). Because one thing about corporate Starbucks that is nice, besides getting the same tasting cup you’re expecting, no matter which store you go to, is that most have a cozy indoor space, where you can plug in and hang out as long as you like. …Especially important when the Hilo rain is all-time!
Note: T-mobile internet subscribers, Starbucks’ employees, and likely iPhone users and customers who are already paying AT&T internet access fees will get unlimited free service. • Though I heard the free two hours has already gone into effect some spots on the mainland…it’s always a little slower here. Let’s just say, staff at Borders’ Starbucks in Hilo only first heard about it this morning and they were just planning a meeting about the switch-over… in Hawai’i time…. (three weeks later the whole morning staff at the downtown Hilo Starbucks said they never heard of the internet switchover).
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Hawai’i Island HotSpots
As a guide for locals who like to get outta the house to work, those who can’t afford DSL at home, and tourists who regularly post on chat rooms asking where they will be able to connect while visiting the Big Isle, here’s a list, of coffeehouses and beyond, where you can experience some free “coconut wireless” – including Starbucks locations ($ = purchase / passwords involved). If there are any spots we’ve left out or ones that no longer work – please let us know, as we will continually update as needed. Hope this helps… ’til the whole world is a free WiFi hotspot.
Bot.com Café (180 Kinoole St, 808/933-9800) The new best place for chillin’ and getting some work done (or not getting some work done). Robots, zombies, Buffy, music, movies, espresso, fresh food and if you’ve got a laptop, log in for WiFi all day long if you like, for a simple $3 purchase (use their computers for $6 an hour). p.s. watch the 2hr parking limit on Kinoole – guess Hilo is trying to score on implementing their enforcement lately – Haile has an 8hr limit. (10am – 10pm, Tues.-Sat) $
***JUST ADDED*** Cafe Pesto (308 Kamehameha Ave Ste 101, 808/969-6640) Usually tasty food (tho somewhat inconsistent), good pizza, tourist pricey – and Hilo locals like it cause there are a limited number of what one may consider “nice” places to take your significant other out to eat. Saw a Wifi sign in front of their place – and also noticed on Trip Advisor you get a free birthday desert with ID and purchase of an entree. Call for hours.
CD Wizard (23C Pohaku St, 808/969-4800) Just opened their internet cafe – coffee and food coming soon. If you have your own laptop, hook into their WiFi with any purchase – yes, Trevor sez even a bottle of water! $ (Feb 21 update: $3 wifi password -good for one day- for non Wizard Club members, free for Wizard Club members).
Imiloa Astronomy Center Sky Garden Restaurant (600 Imiloa Place, 808/969-9700) Check out the new (primarily NASA-funded) 28 million dollar center, enjoy a state-of-the-art 3D Stereo Planetarium show, immerse yourself in the mesh of Hawai’ian culture and modern astronomy, grab some grub at the restaurant (new owners – espresso, omelettes, Chinese food…), get some work done (7am – 4pm). Yearly membership: $30 / students, $45 / adults (price will increase April ’08)
KopeKope (Hilo Shopping Center, 1261 Kilauea, 808/933-1221) One of the most-utilized WiFi options for da college crowd besides campus, this place has the best coffee in town (with a mix of friendly and not-so-much service). Avoid the eggs (microwaved) and smoothies (syrup) but otherwise pretty good food too (waffles with fruit on the weekend). Entertainment provided, if you want to take a break from homework. The internet, since they switched to a passcode, gets very buggy, very often! (new owner, again – many are even less happy with him!). $
Naung Mai Thai Kitchen (86 Kilauea Ave, 934-7540 M-Sat 11-9) When you go to Tina’s Garden Snack Club for the Thai Pizza but you realize it’s Monday and they are closed…you’re so happy to see Naung Mai’s (right next door) is open. Thing is, when it comes to healthy Thai Food, Tina’s is the best, but Naung Mai is also super fresh, not too oily, (no MSG) and delicious. If you go for dinner best to go early, they often only have one over-worked waitress (what’s up with that?). Anyway, what a great spot to get some work done while eating some yum. Just ask them for the passcode (which it seems is always the same). $
Starbucks (438 Kilauea Ave., downtown; 111 E. Puanako St. [Prince Kuhio]; 301 Makaala St [@ Borders]) $ (((note: all the Starbucks listing will go into effect this Spring)))
UH Hilo (200 W. Kawili) This is for students only, but if you have a friend with a password and want to hang out at the library for a change, it’s a good no swell option.
76 station (Mamane St.) Not sure about this one, but saw it mentioned.
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (75-5595 Palani Road) In the shopping center across from the Jamba Juice, Coffee Bean has the worst coffee. Okay, maybe it’s just that their chocolate is such garbage, it makes their mochas absolutely bite! You get one hour free internet with a purchase (and you don’t need to buy a card). $
Jamba Juice (Kona Coast Shopping Center, Palani Road, 808/327-6900) In the same shopping center as Starbucks. All access at the outdoor “food court style” eating area – surf the net all day if you want (every once in a while the connection gets buggy, and there’s limited juice in terms of electric.)
Kona Brewing Company (75-5629 Kukini Hwy — parking around back, 808/334-BREW) Limited outlets, but this is a fun spot to hang out. Great sandwiches, pizza, and of course beer… just don’t get too wasted and spill some on your laptop.
Lava Java (75-5799 Ali’i Dr., 808/327-2161) Food is pricey (though yummy), coffee is decent, and they are always packed (sometimes you have to wait a while for your order). Right across from the ocean, great central tourist location, ask for a passcode when ordering. $ – but I think the password is always the same.
Starbucks (75-1022 Henry St. #1 [across from WalMart]; Kona Coast Shopping Center 74-5588 Palani Rd.) $
Kohala Coffee Mill (Akoni Pule Hwy, Hawi, 808/889-5577) Pretty decent Kona coffee, good quick food (with some breakfast specials/decent prices), yummy Tropical Dreams ice cream. The Coffee Mill is the local hangout, pre-surf / pre-work buzz, and tourist stop. Cozy atmosphere makes it amenable for all. Plus, no password free wireless – sounds good to me!
Starbucks (68-1330 Mauna Lani Dr. in Mauna Lani, King’s Shops Waikaloa) $
Kalani Honua’s Aloha Café (Kalapana/Kapoho / HWY 137, 808/965-0468) Imagine all-access throughout the property to guests, cafe is open to all, 7pm to 10pm. Used to be able to sit in there even if they weren’t “open” but it’s changed a lot there over the years, so I’m checking in with them. Imagine you can also log in the outdoor dining area, while you’re splurging on a healthy meal.
Waimea / Kamuela
Starbucks (67-1185 Mamalahoa Hwy, 808/887-6409) $
Waimea Coffee Co. (65-1279 Kawaihae Rd. #114) This place is cool, coffee’s quality (select, organic, fresh roasted), yum food, regulars even bring their dog inside while they order. Kinda cozy but cramped during breakfast and lunch, but there are also seats outside.
FYI: I’ve noticed that many schools around the island supply internet access without needing a password. If you’re desperate (or somewhere like Ka’u) & have little option, I’ve connected from playing fields, while enjoying a high school soccer game, for example.
A few WiFi sites/articles for more info:
Directory of Free HotSpots around Hawai’i Island chain
Listing of Free HotSpot Directories around the world (+ become a free HotSpot with FON & others)
WiFi As a Health Hazard?, Wired Magazine
Why…WiFi Is Not Hazardous to Our Health, Microcast
The BioInitiative Report (Public Exposure Standard for ELF)
WiFi Antenna Boosters: Hawkings, Utenna
SF’s attempts for an all-access WiFi city
Public WiFi Use Raises Hacking Risk, USA Today
Essential Wireless Hacking Tools, The Ethical Hacker
Digital WiFi Detectors: DigiWifi, StarTech
Great while traveling/on the go (if your phone doesn’t already do it), when you want to see if you can connect but don’t want to have to have your computer open & on to find out. Watches, pens, & (soon) WiFi detector rings – but the kitchy ones only show the signal, not whether or not you will be able to access it.