Sterling digital strategist Kate Rados was all set to show me a beta of the company’s redesigned website from her laptop over lunch yesterday at the Javits Conference Center when she started looking for wireless access. We soon discovered that the Javits was charging $4.95 an hour or $29.95 for all-day access to use the Internet from the conference floor…and the connectivity was, in Kate’s own judgment, “crappy.”
After that, I started pestering everybody I spotted with a laptop about the issue. Abby Blachly of LibraryThing.com, who was getting ready to speak at a panel, said she’d bought an hour, but would probably go back for the whole day. “I don’t have a choice,” she said. “I need it.” That resignation was typical of the people I met who had chosen the service. “If you’re here buying a booth,” one man said angrily, “wireless should be part of the package.” Others refused to make the purchase; a pair of Playaway execs decided they didn’t need that one document right then, while author Marlena Jareaux refused to even look past the first page of the sign-up process, which hadn’t yet mentioned the prices, intuiting that she wasn’t going to like what she saw if she continued.
When I caught up with BEA event director Lance Fensterman and asked about the situation, he pointed up to the Javits ceiling, with traps billowing out at irregular intervals. “They can barely keep the floor dry here,” he said. “We looked into providing universal wireless access, but our understanding was that the product was inferiror and that there were too many dead spots.” And even with that spotty coverage, Javits was of course still charging an arm and a leg for the service; this is a venue, after all, where a simple keg of beer for a happy hour reception will set an exhibitor back $900. “We make numerous compromises when we host an event in this building,” Fensterman said, “and this is one of them. But the show always performs exceptionally well when it’s here; people like having it in New York.”