Here's the thing about hotels charging for internet access: I hate it. Rates are always too high and service tends to be spotty, and the whole thing is a major racket, a way of squeezing more money out of guests for what really should be, by now, a basic free amenity.
That's why I was pleased to hear Marriott's announcement that it will offer free Wi-Fi access in public areas at its Courtyard, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn, TownePlace Suites, and SpringHill Suites properties.
Granted, it's only free Wi-Fi in lobbies and public spaces, since it looks like you'll still have to pay for the in-room connection, but it's better than wandering the streets until you see a cafe with a neon sign that reads "Wi-Fi," where you buy a coffee drink you don't even want, and plunk down your laptop on a sticky table just to check email or look up a good place to eat.
Until now, I've had more luck finding free Wi-Fi at B&Bs and small hotels than at big chains (small providers, I salute you!). For that matter, I had an easier time finding free Wi-Fi in the middle of the jungle in Belize than I do in large hotels in most major U.S. cities. And wow does that make the big guys look stingy. So this is a step in the right direction, and I hope in the next five years free in-room access becomes as common as mini-soaps.