How to setup a pay-to-use wifi?
May 9, 2012 1:07 PM   Subscribe

I have a rental property, rented by the week in the summer. I now have a cable modem and a wireless router in the house. I want to offer the wifi for a fee per week. What is the best way to set it up and how can I get paid?

- I was thinking Paypal, but a) they need internet to use paypal, b) dunno how many of my tenants have accounts
- They pay the brokerage who handles renting out the house, ahead of time... do brokerage's typically handle ala carte stuff like this?
- I realize that they could just take the ethernet out of the router and put it into their computer...
- I can figure out how to remote into the router to regularly change the password (to avoid the "password written on a sticky for all later tenants" situation.

So, any advice? Thanks for your help-
posted by cgs to Technology (41 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Just add it to the rental as an amenity. Wifi is a utility these days. You don't have coin laundry machines in the basement, do you?

(If you do, then speaking as a person who's rented places that have coin laundry machines in the basement, you are bad and you should feel bad.)
posted by Etrigan at 1:13 PM on May 9, 2012 [38 favorites]

Why would you not raise the rent a little bit and just offer this as an amenity? I tend to think that that sort of amenity results in far more goodwill and attempts at hoodwinking than the aggravation of individual charging is worth.
posted by OmieWise at 1:14 PM on May 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

*fewer attempts at hoodwinking*
posted by OmieWise at 1:14 PM on May 9, 2012

Ach. That comment is a mess.

Shorter: everyone hates pay wifi and the people who set it up.
posted by OmieWise at 1:15 PM on May 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

How much are you really looking to make off of this? I would suspect that advertising something like "Free wifi" is going to get you more money (in terms of renters) than tacking on some pretty crummy $5/day fee ... that anyone with half a brain can get around anyway (as you admitted in your post).
posted by ejazen at 1:15 PM on May 9, 2012

It's also worth keeping in mind that in the age of smartphones, "Oh thank god, wifi, now I can keep in touch with the office" is a much less compelling thing than it used to be.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:15 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ah: the timing didn't work out to fold it into the general rent this season. This is a family run property and my dad is unconvinced that anyone wants internet... I'm hoping to cover my costs for this summer.
posted by cgs at 1:16 PM on May 9, 2012

Like everyone's saying, just include it for "free" -- and then raise your rental rate if you feel strongly about getting a monetary return on this.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:17 PM on May 9, 2012

You can setup everything in a locked closet so they don't have physical access to the router or ethernet cord and use a commercial router/product that provides a captured portal and requires payment/authorization before granting access to the internet.

Companies specialize in these types of products for the hospitality industry. The only one I'm familiar with is iBAHN, but I'm sure there's others. I don't know if it would be worth the cost and hassle of doing this though.

On preview: I agree with everyone that its a bad idea and I'm always really annoyed when I stay places that charge me for internet access, and then I never stay there again. But you asked how to do it, so this is one way.
posted by Arbac at 1:19 PM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Charging for it explicitly is likely to annoy the renters, who might take it out on the property. Just eat the cost this year and increase rates next year.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:19 PM on May 9, 2012

I actively avoid hotels and rentals that charge for WiFi. If I were you I'd suck up the cost this year and fold it into next year's rental costs.
posted by cooker girl at 1:19 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you really want to gate access to your wifi, use Fon, and then your compensation would be the ability for you to WiFi-roam all over the world.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2012

Hotspot System will do the trick, try googling "commercial hotspot" for more information.

On preview, I'm with the folks who say don't do this.
posted by zinon at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2012

I thing advertising pay WiFi would actually lose you money in the long run. As someone who has rented properties from people in the past, I would be more likely to pass on a property that advertised "pay wifi" than one that said nothing about WiFi. Pay WiFi would be a red flag that the owner of the property doesn't get "it" (I don't really know what "it" is, but I know it when I see it.) and would probably overlook other critical items such as basic kitchen utensils or toilet paper. I would (possibly incorrectly) judge that property owner to be difficult and would move on to the next rental that would no-doubt have free WiFi.

To help answer your question though, I think something like "Add five dollars, payable via PayPal or check, per week for WiFi access in order to help offset internet costs" on the rental agreement or advertisement might work on people not savvy enough to a) know that free WiFi is pretty much standard in most places and b) not be able to find a way around the pay WiFi.
posted by bondcliff at 1:25 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you really want to charge, the technical measure you're looking for is a "captive portal". Most routers that offer that are expensive commercial routers. It may be you can get DD-WRT to do it for free. I've never tried it, they seem to mostly reference a service called Chillispot.

If that seems too complicated, an honor system of "chip in a few bucks for wifi use" would be a lot easier to implement. A middle ground would be to put a password on the Wifi (which you want anyway) but only tell it to the renter if they pay the fee.

Like everyone else has said, it'd be better if you just include it as part of the rental. Charging for Wifi is like charging for water or electricity. Don't.
posted by Nelson at 1:28 PM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yet another vote for "don't charge".

It's worth noting that if you're using a consumer cable internet account to provide access, charging your renters will be a violation of the Terms of Service and a guest who's sufficiently annoyed by having to pay for WiFi could make trouble for you by contacting your ISP.

I would recommend leaving a donation jar with a simple note explaining that wireless internet has been provided as a courtesy and asking guests to contribute whatever they feel is fair.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:29 PM on May 9, 2012 [9 favorites]

I seem to remember a study a few years ago that found the income from a paid captive portal (which is typically operated by a separate service that you're contracting with) wasn't enough to cover costs, on average. Things may have changed, but man, what a waste that would be: you get additional hassle, less money, and your renters feel like you're putting the squeeze on them.
posted by adamrice at 1:33 PM on May 9, 2012

I just rented a house in Florida for a summer vacation. Wifi is an included utility, and was common to see on other rentals we considered. If there was no wifi or pay wifi, I would have found a rental that included it.
posted by gnutron at 1:37 PM on May 9, 2012

My only goal is to make back the $150 I'm paying the cable company.

The tip jar won't work since we only come into the house once in the middle of the season. I think the jar would walk before then.

If it was free this year, how could we charge for it next season? Maybe that won't be an issue... I also wonder how many tech support calls I'm going to get for this free, un-advertised amenity...
posted by cgs at 1:39 PM on May 9, 2012

You're paying the cable company $150 for the whole summer, I assume? Divided by 12 = $12.5

Raise your rent by $12.5/week, offer free wifi and call it a day. Anything else is going to be too complicated.
posted by desjardins at 1:48 PM on May 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you're filled up your rental weeks for the 2012 season already, I just wouldn't offer it, but would offer it next year. (Add me to the chorus of people who doesn't even consider renting a house with no wifi.) Just make your rent $20 more a week.
posted by chowflap at 1:51 PM on May 9, 2012

I have rented house 2-3 times a year for the past few years for vacation. Either houses have had wi-fi or they haven't. I would never rent a house with wifi you have to pay for (just like I wouldn't rent a house with coin washer and dryers, or a coin operated dishwasher, or pay-per-towel) because I would assume that there was something a little strange about the owner if they charged for wifi. (You wouldn't charge me to use the lights? Or cable? Or hot water? Right?)

Either have wifi. Or don't. But don't charge your renters for it. It will be a colossal pain in the but to set up the portal, people who are paying for it have a high expectation that will be very fast and work, you will spend too much time doing tech support, and, most importantly, it will turn off potential renters.
posted by LittleMy at 1:52 PM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

How can I check, at any time, to see how many people are using the router? This will help me make my case to my dad to roll it into the rent next year.
posted by cgs at 2:03 PM on May 9, 2012

How can I check, at any time, to see how many people are using the router? This will help me make my case to my dad to roll it into the rent next year.

Most routers can provide you with a list of the current DHCP assignments in their remote management. For a spot check, you can always log in and see how many local ip addresses are currently assigned. You might also be able to examine the router's current ARP table.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:18 PM on May 9, 2012

Let's say I am renting your place and you want to charge me 10$ for wifi for a week. Okay. But that means that it has to work all the time, be really fast, and that you have to send someone to fix it if there is a problem, because otherwise you'll get a lot of "charged for internet access that didn't even work" complaints.

Just give it for the summer, check how much it's used to see if it's something you want to provide as part of the cost of rental.
posted by jeather at 2:33 PM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have a few Buffalo routers with DD-WRT on them that I took out of service, you can have one for the cost of postage. It'll allow you to set up hotspot stuff, supports SSHing into for remote management (password changes etc) and has logging so you can get some idea how much use the stuff gets. Memail me if you're interested.

I've got to agree with the don't charge folks; in a vacation town there's usually enough density that I can get free stuff somewhere else. I'm not going to go through much PITA to get it from you. I disagree with worrying about alienating folks with the selling; I would be shocked if even 1% of your rentals are repeat business and that a wifi annoyance (when the property didn't have it before) would make them stop repeating.
posted by phearlez at 2:36 PM on May 9, 2012

Suggest you show your dad this page with all the "hate pay wifi" comments. Dad might not realize how a different generation lives - and vacations.
posted by Cranberry at 3:11 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite] your dad this thread if he thinks this is not a great amenity. I rent houses when on vacation and work in a small law firm so need wifi in vacation rentals just in case I need to do something for a client--sadly, it is simply not an option for me to do without it.

If you are planning on offering it this summer (to people who booked without the expectation of having it), eat the $150 -- you might get some repeat customers or good reviews for having done so. Next summer, raise the rent 10 or 20 bucks to cover it. Weirdly, I would not notice or care for such a small increase in rent, but I would be really put off by someone charging me for wifi. I just hate being nickel and dimed to death.
posted by murrey at 4:59 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

one more thing...can't the brokerage that handles the rental tell your dad what a great amenity this is to offer? They are presumably experts that he trusts, right?
posted by murrey at 5:03 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

While I agree with everyone that I wouldn't stay in a place with pay wifi the word you are looking for is "captive portal" and there are a number of free and paid solutions that you can use with your wifi setup including some that take payment. The other alternative which might be a better in-between solution is something where people are given the option to click through something for free wifi and you could have the router, very easily, track something like this. We were going to set this up at my library. The library offers free wifi but it's very important that they are able to track how many users they have but NOT track anything about what they're doing. I suggested the tomato firmware for them, but they have some IT people who could install it, may not be plug and play enough for you.
posted by jessamyn at 5:11 PM on May 9, 2012

If you added a microwave or a DVD player, would you charge people for that until you'd made back your investment? I can definitely see why it would be worthwhile to install a captive portal to track access, but don't charge for it. I find that sort of thing grimace-worthy.
posted by KathrynT at 5:16 PM on May 9, 2012

Nthing that I would be less likely to choose / return to a rental place that charged for WiFi than one that didn't offer it at all.
posted by Perplexity at 5:41 PM on May 9, 2012

If there is any possible online place where people review your rental house, or where they could, I'd do this instead. Post a note, or send an email, or whatever, communicating the wifi info and password. Add:

"We've added free wifi this year. We hope you like it! If this is a useful amenity for you, please post a review on [] to let us know. Thanks!"

That way you're not annoying people, but you've got a good shot of getting a free ratings boost. Win-win.
posted by mercredi at 5:58 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not getting the point- the place is already booked up for the season. Why do you want to do it?

But, if you want to add it, I wouldn't charge separately for it. It isn't like you are going to be able to save on costs for the renters who choose not to partake. So just up the rent a little next year to cover the cost.

If you really need to put a gatekeeper onto it, then you'll have to use something like the above linked hotspot software. Then put the hardware into a locked cage/cabinet. No point in putting fancy hotspot software onto it if someone can just disconnect the router from the cable modem and plug straight into the modem.
posted by gjc at 6:16 PM on May 9, 2012

//I would be shocked if even 1% of your rentals are repeat business and that a wifi annoyance (when the property didn't have it before) would make them stop repeating.//

I have a friend that owns a rental house on the Outer Banks. I've rented it 4 times, and I know that he has many repeat renters. If you tend to return to the same vacation spot every year, which many people do, why wouldn't rent the same house that you know to be clean, well maintained, and comes with free wifi?
posted by COD at 7:25 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't stay somewhere without free WiFi if there was a suitable option. It's pretty much expected these days that any short-term accommodation comes with WiFi and more and more are free (perhaps because it costs more to collect the money than they make?). I would chose to stay at your place over another because you have free Wifi. I also agree that lots of people are serial renters and holiday rentals are often as a result of referrals from friends who have stayed there.

It's probably a good investment to simply offer it for free. But.
cgs: "I also wonder how many tech support calls I'm going to get for this free, un-advertised amenity..."

Think about this - how many times do you want to be woken at three in the morning? How many times do you want to trek down there to plug something back in? If you decide to offer it free, put a clear sign on the router or somewhere reasonably visible that the service is offered free but there is no technical support available. Include some basic trouble-shooting (how to reboot the router etc).

If you decide to charge for it, you need to offer reasonable technical support (not via e-mail as one place I stayed at did - doesn't take much to work out the flaw in that method)
posted by dg at 7:55 PM on May 9, 2012

Another vote for either treating it as an amenity that's part of the rent (like the cable TV, local telephone, and so on presumably are) or dropping it if you don't want to do that.

If you must charge, could you possibly charge all at once through the brokerage? "Rent is $X/wk with wifi, $Y/wk without." And leave the brokerage instructions on how to turn the access point on or off when they go through the house between renters— presumably it could be made as easy as "go into the locked utility closet and flip the switch labeled WIFI ACCESS POINT".

charging your renters will be a violation of the Terms of Service

This is probably true, but it depends on the ISP's terms of service. They do vary. Please don't assume everyone's ISP has the same ToS.
posted by hattifattener at 7:55 PM on May 9, 2012

As someone who just browsed a lot of vacation rental ads and finally booked, I can vouch that "paid wifi" places were nixed before the "no wifi" places were. When you spread it over the weeks (or days) of rental, it's annoying, especially because I have NEVER paid for wifi that was worth it--it's ALWAYS slow, it's always buggy--and I ONLY get upset because I had to pay for crappy internet. I don't feel I can complain about "free" crappy internet in vacation rentals.
posted by smirkette at 8:03 PM on May 9, 2012

One thing you might want to check out is if there's someone else's FREE unsecured wifi accessible from the property(ies).

If you're charging for it, and there's an unsecured node that's accessible - your renters are going to feel even more ripped off. And $10 a week? Screw that. Sure, some hotels charge much more than that per day, but ready internet access in most areas is an almost given unless you're somewhere rural or has a notoriously bad internet access in general.

Also, if you're charging for it, you might be on the hook (moreso) legally speaking if your clients are using your wifi internet access service in the commission of crimes and/or licensing infringement.

Your internet service provider (ISP) should be able to let you know how much data has gone through your pipes. If you have limited access or a bandwidth/download limit, a client who has a premium usenet account could max out your bandwidth and suck down as much data as the ISP will give them 24/7. If you have a data cap, you could potentially be on the hook for over-useage fees, which in a not unimagineable scenario, could cost you hundreds (or even thousands depending on how scummy your ISP is) of dollars.
posted by porpoise at 8:31 PM on May 9, 2012

I also wonder how many tech support calls I'm going to get for this free, un-advertised amenity...

Forward the calls to your dad. (I'm not being snarky. Snarky would be "...and then bill him for your time.)
posted by desuetude at 10:29 PM on May 9, 2012

You get a Wi-Fi that supports mutiple SSIDs and use one encrypted for whatever infrastructure needs that keep you from just turning wireless off/on, and leave the other SSID open or on a fixed password and turn it off/on as needed.

We do this all the time at $WORK where an AP will have multiple Virtual APs (VAP). One for the mesh bridge, one for guest, one for WPA, one for printers-only, etc.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:07 AM on May 10, 2012

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