An underground scouting report on Lowcountry wi-fi hotspots 


If you're tired of the über-hip hegemony of wi-fi camping down at your local Starbucks, you've got plenty of options for exploring the airborne bandwidth that Chucktown has to offer. But you wouldn't know it from the standard hotspot directories, which at most list 50 or so. We're connected in a way that goes largely undocumented. Thousands of Wireless Access Points are quietly beaming their calls for connection across the region. A few are advertised, many have little signs in the window, but most are unknown.

So where to leech?

First stop, Hooters. Cracking open a laptop in the middle of Hooters isn't the coolest thing you can do, especially in a booth next to a server staff meeting. After the laughter died down, I decided to check out a few RSS feeds I hadn't read in a while at a brisk 785 kb/s. It wasn't long before a buxom beauty brought a big mug of chilled brown beer. Take that, you decaf triple venti soy white chocolate mocha drinking drones.

A few minutes later, I enjoyed a sublime "Gorilla Code" moment of looking up from, only to see a smiley, stacked angel holding a Blue Cheese Burger, patiently waiting for me to put the computer aside. Once the online fantasy football guys get a hold of this place, Hooters is going to kill it.

Next, Tanning Oasis. I had heard the human toaster offered free wireless while roasting. Well, you can't do that, but they do have wi-fi for people waiting. But my disappointment led to million-dollar inspiration: The iTan Store. Private rooms with 802.11n wi-fi with customers watching aggregated Twitter feeds from their 3 BFFs on HD plasma screens, listening to iTunes audiobooks about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and running on a treadmill connected to a generator driving four huge UV tanning banks. Combined with some athletic adult diapers and feeding tubes of protein enriched mango smoothies, you could keep that up for a long time. In three days, you can emerge tan, hip, thin, connected, and environmentally conscious.

Another alternative is waterborne. The Megadock, hosted by the Charleston City Marina berths some of Charleston's most pimped-out yachts. Most modern marinas have wi-fi, but the posh clientele of the Megadock seems to support a bigger bandwidth. With the wireless wattage they're pumping out, you could start a small radio station (all Jimmy Buffet?). I connected a 1/4 mile away from Lockwood Boulevard and got decent throughput. You can also connect on the Ashley River while waiting out the low wake cruise and checking for a quick cheat on where to drop a line.

But these people want you around, most don't. Since I already had the 12v adapter hooked up, I decided to indulge in a little old-school Wardriving. It gets its name from a really old-school tactic made famous in the movie WarGames, dialing all phone numbers from within a specific prefix range, resulting in all connections you can dial into from a geographic area. But in this case, it's a simple program that monitors the wi-fi card on your laptop, logging all the access points that are broadcasting their SSID (service set identifier).

In two hours of unsystematic driving to all these places and venturing a little further around the peninsula, I found 517 access points, 218 of which were wide open and didn't need a password.

Charleston, you're surfing with your pants down.

I saw so many real estate companies, finance companies, fire stations, pawn shops, and many private homes. The private homes gave me the most pause, because some people actually named their routers with their full street address, first and last names, brand of computer, or what looked like real screen names.

Could somebody hack into your computer with just that info? Well, yes, but it's a time consuming and boring challenge. What's more likely is identity theft, or simple burglary. You might look into turning on WEP for your routers.

I ended my tour on East Ashley, cruising to the end of Folly Beach. If the idea of a sunny day and a walk on a breezy beach doesn't fit, you could indeed check your clan gaming stats down by the lighthouse. There is an open wireless access point at The Edge of the World.

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