Some Tips for travelers about internet services in the USA and in Europe

USA Services: 
In the USA and Canada,  it is relatively easy to access the internet from any hotel.   In addition,  there are many thousands of free-to-use wireless internet access points in the USA.  See:

1) Dialup Internet Access:   Many ISPs (such as, AOL, and provide 800 numbers which connect to their services with a connect time charge of about $6.00 per hour when local call charges at a particular hotel are excessive or when a local access number is not available in a particular area. Some individual hotels have a local dialup ISP number that guests can use to access a "free" internet connection during their stay. 
 2) More and more chain hotels (such as Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn,  Holiday Inn Express and many Marriott among others have started offering guest's free wireless (or sometimes wired) high speed internet service as a "free" amenity.  I believe this trend is accelerating as many business people need an internet connection and the cost of this service to the hotel is very low.  There are some hotels who are attempting to charge  for high speed internet services.  I have seen one hotel asking US$10 a day and many are in the range of $4 to $10 a day.  I am told that many are discovering that making a charge for internet service is counterproductive toward their goal of attracting business people as guests.  I believe that over time, all hotels will be seen to convert high speed internet service into a free or very low cost service.

In the USA,  I have not seen: any hotel:  a)  block access to local internet service numbers,  b) block access to any 800 number,  c) block access to ports required for VOIP services,  b) block ports used for FTP, VNC, Telnet, and other internet services.  Interestingly,  the more expensive the hotel the more the hotel seems to charge for any internet service they provide.  However,  if you have a backup 800 access number for internet access you can always get access for a maximum of about $6 per hour and with no added hotel phone charges (as far as I have seen).

European Services:
During a recent 4 week trip to Europe (Ireland, UK, France, Belgium, Germany,  Switzerland),  I found a potpourri of services and policies.   Less than half of the hotels we stayed in over a 4 week period had any local-to-the-hotel internet services available.  Those that did have high speed internet service (mostly) charged for the service.  The charges varied over an extremely wide range of from "free" to about $4 a day to $10 a day to  US$25 per day (at Thistle Hotel)  to the SwissCom MOBILE wireless system in Switzerland that charged about 9 Swiss Franks (about US$6) for 30 minutes of 802.11b connect time.  (Time starts when you log on with  your password and ends 30 minutes later regardless of usage.)  Caution:  Read the fine print before you use ANY European hotel's Internet Services.  The costs can be VERY high.  One chap reports that he plugged his computer into a hotel's ethernet portal and when he unplugged and checked out a week later the bill for internet service came to $4300.00.  His overcharge was the most egregious I have heard about! 

General Information:
 Generally there is no problem using the hotel telephone system to access a local dialup ISP access number,  but there is (about 95% of the time) a charge of from US 20 to 75 cents a minute for connect time.  Most hotels charged for connect time  when you were dialing a local access phone number.  Some made no charge for such local calls.   In the UK,  you SHOULD be able to dial any "freefone"  number such as is used by AOL (a call where the called party pays) without paying the hotel.  However,  my experience is that your hotel's pbx may exact a charge none-the-less.  Note:  The AOL "Europe Wide" access itself comes with a variable surcharge of from $6 to $12 per hour so it is not "free" to use  it even when there are no hotel line charges!  AOL does seem to have about the best European coverage of any multinational ISP.

We carried a T-Mobile GPRS Sierra Wireless 750 card with us on the trip expecting to be able to use it in the UK, France,  Belgium, and  Germany.  However,  we were never able to get it to work after we left the USA.  Two hours on the phone to the USA with T-Mobile tech support plus an hour with the London T-mobile  repair center gave no solution.  TMobile UK says that TMobile USA has not figured out how to set up their GPRS customer's accounts so that European roaming is possible.  This all seemed like a GREAT service to be able to roam all over Europe and be charged US$0.0015 per kilobyte for email upload/download but it just did not operate. 

Details by Country:
1)  Ireland:  In Ireland, we found one hotel (Old Ground/Ennis) that offers free wireless internet to guests.  We found another hotel (Tower/Waterford) that offered wireless internet to guests via a third party for about US$15 a day or $3 per hour.  They also allowed guests to use the computer in the business center (or your own computer) to access the internet for free from the business center.  Several others had no internet connectivity for guests but had a "pay-as-you-go" computer terminal for from about $4 an hour to about $10 per day.  All hotels had no blocks on your use of their lines to telephone your local (AOL in my case) ISP number.  In Ireland,  AOL only has local numbers in Dublin,  Shannon and one other town so it was expensive just to telephone a distant access city.

2) In the UK on this trip,  we stayed at only one hotel, the Thistle Hotel/Euston in London.  This hotel (I think) is an anomaly.  But if you plan to use the internet in London UK, I think you will want to chose somewhere else to stay.  See this writeup for more details.  I have not stayed in a hotel in London with wireless internet but in no other hotel in London where I have stayed have any roadblocks been placed in the way of making ordinary dial up connections if you have the standard RJ11 to British Telecom Plug cable assembly.

3) While in France,  we stayed in a lot of smaller hotels in small towns mostly near the Atlantic Coast.  None of these had any internet services themselves,  but some of them allowed free local telephone to the "nationwide France" AOL access number.  Generally,  the cost varied from  zero to about (Euros) 50 cents per minute for telephone access.  Our regular "old" French modem adapter worked at all the hotels where needed.  A couple had standard phones with  French plugs on the wall end and RJ11 connectors on the other.  On these, we just unplugged the cord from the phone and plugged it into our modem  or used an available modem jack in the side of the phone where it had one.  Basically, we had no problem in France logging into AOL using the France nationwide AOL number from any hotel.

4) While in Belgium,  we only stayed in one hotel and it was a NovoTel.  This hotel fell into the same bag as the hotels in France.  It did have modern RJ11 phone cables/jacks so we could use our regular USA modem cable.  It had no High Speed Internet Access.  We generally liked the several NovaTels we stayed in.  They are comfortable,  reasonable prices and (like Hampton Inn in the USA) you know what it is going to be like and the prices were always pretty reasonable.

5) While in Germany, we stayed in a few Novatels and many small hotels.  We found none with high speed internet service but had no problem with use of the dial up AOL internet service.  Most had the standard German telephone cable and we just used our German to RJ11 adapter and had no trouble anywhere.  The usual (euro) 20 to 60 cent per minute access charges for local calls applied to our internet connect time. 

6) While in Switzerland,  we stayed in several non-Chain hotels.  We had no problem using our laptop's modem in any of the hotels except in a du Loc hotel.  In this hotel,  we found that the cable on the telephone was a standard RJ11 on the telephone set end and the standard Swiss Plug on the other but our standard Swiss modem cable would not work.  We found that in this (old) installation,  the active wires in the cable to the hotel telephone were black and red (normal is black/yellow or red/green.  In my past PBX design work,  I was always amused at how the Europeans worked diligently to make their telephone gear NOT operate in any other country.  This pair splitting in the short cable run to the phone set was one of the techniques used.  With the coming of the European Union (EU),  I think most of this sort of "non-standardization" is a thing of the past (with the possible exception of Thistle Hotels!) 

I am sure that the above only "touches the surface" and the author solicits comments,  additions,  corrections including the policies and availability of internet service in countries other than the ones listed.  In particular, if you know of individual hotels or chains of hotels that offer their guests either free or low cost high speed internet services, please let me know.  I am interested in maintaining a listing of such hotels.  SPECIFIC HOTELS WITH FREE INTERNET ACCESS, click HERE

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