Can campgrounds advertise Wi-Fi if it doesn’t work?

By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report

I read a story yesterday that the Federal Communications Commission changed the definition of what constitutes “broadband” Internet service from a threshold speed of 4 megabits per second all the way up to 25 mbs for download speeds, and from 1 mbs up to 3 mbs for upload connections. That means a phone or cable company can no longer claim it offers customers broadband service unless the connection speed at the customer’s home or office is at least 25 mbs.

It got me to thinking that perhaps a standard needs to be developed for the outdoor hospitality industry as to what constitutes Wi-Fi service.

Almost all campgrounds advertise on their websites, in their brochures, on promotional flyers, campground maps and even billboard signs that they offer Wi-Fi service. But, when campers show up, more often than not, they can’t connect. If campers can never connect to the Internet, does the campground truly offer the service?  After all, if an RV park advertised clean showers, but the shower rooms were routinely closed, do they really offer the ability to take a shower?

The campground I am staying at this week advertises that it offers Wi-Fi service. WHEN people can connect to the system, the download speed is clocked at 0.23 mbs download and 0.03 mbs upload speeds — and that is in a metropolitan area. By comparison, old-fashioned dial up connections would clock in at 0.056. By further comparison, my cellular Mi-Fi device registers speeds of 15.62 mbs download and 14.52 mbs upload.

I imagine this campground has grown accustomed to complaints about its lack of service because the staff immediately apologized when I checked in and told me that Wi-FI service in my area was “iffy.” Well, I checked, and the entire park is “iffy.”  The only place people can go to connect to Wi-Fi is the office area where it registers a “blazing” 1.33 mbs download and 0.28 mbs upload.

Campground wireless service has been a source of consternation for many RVers for several years. But, I’m thinking we can eliminate the problem right now by simply setting a minimum connection speed for which campgrounds can advertise that they offer wireless Internet service.

Campgrounds that can attain and maintain a download speed of 3 mbs (less than the old federal standard for “broadband”) should have no problem meeting the needs of its customers.  Campgrounds that can’t offer that basic level of service should not advertise if offers Wi-Fi because it is deceptive to do so.

When people read “we offer wireless Internet,” they base their assumptions for service on what they experience at places like McDonalds. The speed isn’t ideal, but it is sufficient to check e-mail and browse the web. If campers are making decisions on where to stay based on seeing “we offer wireless Internet,” and show up expecting McDonald’s level wireless service, but don’t get it, I think campers have every reason to be angry.

That’s especially true now that technology has been developed to manage connections in a way to stifle video streaming for wireless pigs to create an enjoyable Internet experience for everyone else. Read the story we wrote about Checkbox by clicking here for information on the simple, low cost technology that campgrounds can employ to deliver high-speed wireless service throughout the park.

The other solution is for campgrounds to charge a nominal amount for people to connect to the campground’s system rather than suggesting a connection is included in the price of a reservation. People who need to use the Internet should pay for it, which should reduce the amount of traffic on the campground’s system. Even then, a minimum threshold for service must be established. Nothing will irritate a camper faster than paying for Internet service, and still having to wait and wait and wait as a page loads.

Customers may grumble about paying, but when they realize they can connect at comfortable speeds, the grumbling should disappear.

If campers can’t attain a download speed of 3 mbs, the park should be honest with customers and simply admit they don’t offer wireless Internet. That eliminates any misconceptions as to what campers should expect. Campground owners will still hear complaints from callers that they don’t offer wireless service, but at that point the camper still has an opportunity to keep looking for an RV park that offers genuine wireless service.

Best of all, customers can’t contact their state consumer protection agency to complain of deceptive advertising because the campground honestly admitted they don’t offer the service.

I can assure campground owners that dissatisfaction regarding wireless service will only grow as the Internet is not going away. I urge the outdoor hospitality industry to develop a wireless service standard which campgrounds and RV parks must meet in order to advertise the availability of wireless service. Failure to do so only invites government intervention over deceptive advertising.

Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber

A journalist who has covered the recreation vehicle industry since January 2000, Greg Gerber founded RV Daily Report on April Fool's Day in 2009. He also serves as the editor of the publication and website. As an Eagle Scout, he has enjoyed camping for decades and has visited every state except Hawaii. A DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three young women, he has two grandchildren as well. He currently splits his time between Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona. Greg can be reached at editor@rvdailyreport.com.

Leave a Comment

  • Patty Claney/Big Creek RV Park says:

    This is a problem at our campground as well. However, we learned when building our park there is a clear distinction between the “wi-fi” and the actual Internet Service Provider (ISP). For example, we have blazingly-good wi-fi in our park. However, it is connected to DSL that comes through the phone line. Not the best combo–but at least we are providing the RVer with some sort of internet service. What we would recommend that campgrounds and RV parks do is a better job of communicating what type of service they are actually offering. We clearly communicate with you when you check in (and when you log on as well) that you are able to check e-mail, map where you’re going, get on Facebook to tell people what you’re up to, etc. However, streaming video and other “bandwidth eaters” are out. The other problem we are running into the past two years, on busy weekends, is the number of devices per RV site. Last Memorial Day weekend, I had one site with 17 devices! That will bog down any system. So we are now going to offer free wi-fi for up to 4 devices, and charge a nominal fee for each device after that. I think that will keep our system running a bit better. Make sure you ask specifics when checking in (or when booking a reservation) if you need consistent Internet service. Don’t be afraid–YOU are the customer. I’m always happy to answer those questions–all RV park and campground owners will be happy to as well. Hope this was helpful–have a GREAT day! 🙂 Patty Claney, owner–Big Creek RV Park

    • Greg Gerber says:

      Patty, I agree wholeheartedly. I think most campers will understand that campgrounds restricted by DSL connections really do have their hands tied. The trickle of bandwidth that comes from DSL divided among 200 sites and 800 devices means it is going to be slow. I was talking with someone last night, and we both agreed that we would pay more to have faster access because we need it for business. So, campgrounds that want to offer free service to all guests, can make up the costs by having an extra “pipe” installed with a separate login that people who really, truly need Internet can access. If it is a matter between being able to work and not being able to work, I think those people are willing to pay for faster service and know they might be expected to do so. Using cable as an example, one incoming 100 mbs line divided by all campers for free plus a second 100 mbs line offered to paying customers, which would be 10 percent of campers or less.

      GREG GERBER
      Editor, RV Daily Report

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