Program Helps Small-Business Owners Make Money Off Wi-Fi

By Diane Mastrull
The Philadelphia Inquirer.

PHILADELPHIA

The two visitors from England occupied window seats at HubBub Coffee in downtown Philadelphia on a recent rainy afternoon, huddled over hot drinks and the real reason they had stopped in: free Wi-Fi access.

Free for them, but not the coffee shop’s owner.

When Internet squatters’ time at a small business lasts long after they’ve swallowed the last sip of their caffeinated cover, that Wi-Fi becomes an even pricier perk, said Alan Jacobson.

He and friend Jesse Bookspan are out to change that with GuestNet, a software and hardware product that aims to make small-business owners money off every log-on to the Wi-Fi they offer.

“Everyone wants free Internet, but the goal of a business is to make money,” Bookspan said.

GuestNet might not chase off Web lingerers, but its creators hope it at least guilts them into increasing what they spend at the businesses whose Wi-Fi they’re using.

That would be a secondary benefit, however. GuestNet’s primary objective is to help small businesses turn their Wi-Fi into a moneymaker by posting on their landing pages advertising videos no longer than 25 seconds. A customer wishing to use the free wireless connection must watch an ad first, before getting to the desired website.

How many more ads the customer must watch depends on how long he or she stays signed on and the ad frequency selected by the business hosting the Wi-Fi.

After a four-month pilot, GuestNet launched in late October at the Coffee Fest trade show in Portland, Ore. The company does not expect to start being paid by advertisers for placing their videos until January.

Pricing is based on the number of ad views, Bookspan said. GuestNet will pay businesses based on log-ons generated: for up to 600 a month, $20; up to 1,200, $30; up to 1,800, $40; up to 2,400, $50; more than 2,400, $70.

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