In the early days of the Internet, with its e-mail enabling capacity, who needed it the most when on the road? Was it we newsies, trying to file our stories to distant, anxious editors? Or sales executives, filing orders and expense accounts to faraway, apprehensive managers?


Doesn’t much matter now, for everyone needs the Internet. Or thinks they do. Truth be told, in today’s world they very well may require it. Business of every kind, to include agriculture, is conducted through cyberspace. And for some reason many of us routinely e-mail (or text message) our families when away, notwithstanding “free” long distance by cellular phone, as ubiquitous as the ‘Net.


That a hotel or motel in a town of any size remains in business, or hopes to continue, without Internet service seems rather improbable. (I am reminded of traveling through Searcy County for a fishing weekend and passing a six-unit, cinderblock inn with a portable sign in front: “Free Wireless Internet.”)


Not just “free,” mind you, but “wireless.”


Wireless, of course. When’s the last time you reached your room and opened your laptop and discovered an Ethernet cord was required to connect to the ‘Net? It last happened to me in post-Katrina New Orleans, in a prestige hotel (my employer wasn’t generous; it was a negotiated, long-term corporate discount) that not only was not wireless but demanded an extra $11 per day to rent the cord. Offended in my client’s behalf, I worked the phone until I found a wireless hostelry a short distance away and moved there.


“Free”? Nothing’s free, you know that; one pays for the convenience of wireless internet service at every establishment that offers it, be it a motel or a coffee shop or, in my neighborhood, the grocery. It’s built into the price of the room or the coffee or the milk. But the “free” helps it go down easier and, as with wireless, we’ve become accustomed to it. In fact we dive for it, witness the clipping I recently received from a friend.


It seems an “intelligent space” company — as best I can tell, it’s an Internet service provider on steroids — decided to test how zestfully consumers would grab at free connections. As with any such arrangement, at an airport or retail establishment or wherever, the user must click either “Agree” or “Decline” to a statement of conditions before getting on-line. You, me, we all click our acceptance, never bothering to read the conditions. In the firm’s test, said conditions included “1,000 hours of community service to be performed at the company’s discretion,” said service to perhaps include:


• Cleansing local parks of animal waste;


• Manually relieving sewer blockages;


• Cleaning portable lavatories at local festivals and events;


• Painting snail shells to brighten their existence;


• Scraping chewing gum off city streets.


The test was conducted over two weeks ending in early July. A total of 22,275 consumers in 32 countries including the U.S. clicked “Accept.” Exactly one — one, as in 1 — spotted the ruse, so identified in the test itself, and flagged it to win a prize. The company described the exercise as educational in intent; it wanted to warn the world of the hazards of “free” Internet access. So it said. (You can learn more about the spoof if you wish by entering the appropriate search terms on the, well, the Internet.)


Just before leaving Pulaski County for Sebastian, I did a sit-down with my banker, who had some papers for me to sign. Naturally my account is up on his computer screen. “I notice you’re not signed up for online banking,” he commented. “It’s free,” he added.


I replied: “I know.”


A closing note:


Anthony Scaramucci, the foul-mouthed former aide to President Trump, was conned into a fake e-mail conversation with some guy posing as Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff forced out by the arrival of Scaramucci, who was himself fired by the new chief of staff on the latter’s first day in the job. A part of the current Washington circus, sort of funny.


Not funny: the report, yet to be denied, that a poseur scammed another high-ranking Trump administration official and engaged him in cyber-correspondence. Not some clerk in the Department of Education, but the second-highest executive (indeed, the acting secretary) of the Department of Homeland Security. Not funny at all.