Warning: This is an opinion post, something I rarely do. This story just got me so riled up I had to post some thoughts on it.
In case you haven't seen this story yet, Dailywireless.org posted about "Carriers Kill Free Wi-Fi". I think this is a horrible development, and here is why...
I'll say this only once, carriers that either charge for Wi-Fi access or count Wi-Fi usage against data caps will alienate their [former] customers.
You can't start offering a service for free because it reduces your cellular network/backhaul costs and reduces your network congestion, then turn around and realize that you could making another buck elsewhere off the service. You started FREE, and making a change to PAID Wi-Fi will not work. It's now a commodity and no-one, I mean no-one, will want to pay for it. Just look at what happened to the hospitality industry. Yeah, almost all hotels offer FREE Wi-Fi now, and they had the fortune to start off as a paid service setting consumer expectations up front. Cellular telcos will have no such leeway, in fact just the opposite.
Oh, not to mention the fact that FREE Wi-Fi will be so prevalent even without carrier Wi-Fi networks that users will just go elsewhere (trust me on this one :). When every cafe, bookstore, and retail shop will be offering FREE Wi-Fi within the next year or two, consumers will see this shift in policy as nothing but greed.
Carriers will be better able to retain customer loyalty by giving away Wi-Fi than by charging for it. Try that for a marketing tactic... "Unlimited data on our Wi-Fi network. You know, because we're cool like that!"
The Dailywireless story is about Shaw Communications up in Canada. But you can see the writing on the wall for other carriers. AT&T, you're the largest U.S. carrier with skin in the game. Keep it FREE. We like it that way. I don't mean to single you out, and I don't know what your plans for Wi-Fi are. But looking at where other U.S. carriers are with Wi-Fi offload (Verizon - nada; T-Mobile - struggling; Sprint - who?), it's only natural that the U.S. market is really yours at this point.
Wi-Fi uses unlicensed frequency - FREE! It's built into the technology's DNA. Don't screw with my Wi-Fi! It gets me all riled up!