Facebook expands free Wi-Fi service for small businesses

Is your favorite coffee shop still curiously lacking a steady Wi-Fi connection? Perhaps Facebook’s latest project will get the Internet flowing: Facebook is expanding a program that encourages small businesses owners to give their customers free Wi-Fi. Netgear announced a partnership with Facebook today that will let merchants turn certain Netgear routers into hot spots for their customers — with one catch. To access Wi-Fi, customers have to “check-in” on the merchant’s Facebook page. 

This isn’t a new program — Facebook pioneered this Wi-Fi-for-check-ins gambit with Cisco Meraki’s routers and wireless products in 2013— but the decision to expand the program to include Netgear indicates that Facebook likes what has happened so far.

It seems like a good deal for everyone: Facebook gets more engagement with its largely ignored check-in feature, merchants get more action on their Facebook pages, and customers get free Wi-Fi. Plus, customers can change their privacy settings to “Only Me” so  their check-in is hidden, which effectively nullifies the benefits for Facebook, but it means users don’t experience the drawback of having to tell everyone where they are if they don’t feel like it. Nothing to hate on here, right? 

Well, there’s nothing to hate on, but I don’t think there’s much of an advantage for customers. After all, are businesses who haven’t bothered to get Wi-Fi up and running for their customers really going to be lured into doing so with promises of juiced-up Facebook engagement? It seems to me the types of cafes that neglect Wi-Fi would also be the types of cafes that don’t care about Facebook pages, so I’m not so sure the motivation to install is quite as fetching as Facebook thinks it is. 

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: