Google to Provide Free Airport WiFi as Holiday Present

Google, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft, all intend to temporarily provide free Wi-Fi access in airports, airplanes and public places for holiday season.

Google Inc. announced Tuesday that it would provide free Wi-Fi access in 47 airports across the country, including Boston, Houston and Seattle, through Jan. 15. The airports handle about 35 percent of U.S. air travelers, the company said.

Travelers who connect to a wireless "hot spot" at one of the airports will see a browser page that gives them the chance to donate to three charities and have the donation matched by Google.

The 47 airports include some, such as McCarran International in Las Vegas, that already provide free Wi-Fi. Sponsorships help the airport keep the service free, The Associated Press reports.

According to the FAQ, Google's doing this "to make the holiday travel crush a little easier." To that end, the company is working with Boingo, Advanced Wireless Group, Time Warner Cable, Electronic Media Systems, Lilypad, and other airport Wi-Fi providers to foot the bill for airport travelers. The search giant also struck a similar deal earlier this year with airline Virgin America to provide free Wi-Fi on its flights.

And Google's holiday spirit doesn't stop with the free Wi-Fi. The company will also prompt folks using the gratis Internet connection to make donations (via Google Checkout, of course) to one of several non-profits--and will match the donations to boot (up to a maximum of $250,000). You're not required to make a donation to use the free Wi-Fi, but doing so just might help you feel a bit more jolly.

If your airport isn't on the list--like LAX, SFO, EWR, JFK, BOS, and many others--you can continue to project Grinch-like misanthropy onto the greedy purveyors of overpriced Wi-Fi, PC World reports.

Meanwhile, the motivator in all this gift giving, perhaps, is Microsoft, which in September started giving away free Wi-Fi at hotspots around the United States on one condition: You must use Bing to search the Web at least once. It's not clear where the Bing hotspots are, exactly, but there are reportedly thousands of locations involved. JiWire, a mobile advertising network that's partnering with Microsoft on the deal, told MediaPost that "the campaign has performed well above average and Microsoft plans to continue the promotion."

Yahoo's version gives away free Wi-Fi at Times Square in New York City. The promotion starts today and lasts one year.

Google takes the cake for best promotion here. As the company points out in its press release, over 100 million people will travel through the participating airports between now and January 15, according to the FAA. Google's not asking for anything in return for the free Wi-Fi, and the offer to make donations gives the company bonus "don't be evil" points, PC World reports.

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