Why pay for something you can get for free? It seems like decent logic, and most of the time it holds water. Of course when "for free" actually means "stealing", the question loses its protection of being a rhetorical question and becomes more of a philosophical one; if you can download an mp3 for free instead of buying it, is there really any harm in downloading it? Even though you aren't stealing anything physical, as in going to a CD shop and stuffing Fall Out Boy's latest craptastic release under your sweatshirt, are you still "stealing"?
In the same vein, is hopping onto someone else Wifi signal stealing?
When I plopped my laptop down in my room for the first time and switched it on, I didn't spend any time philosophizing what it is to "steal" - I smiled, shouted "free!" to myself and let myself become a zombie in front of my 14 inch screen. When I first got to Japan, I didn't have any friends, co-workers (I didn't work for three weeks), cell phone, or toilet paper; the things that usually make you feel comfortable in any living situation. So when I arrived in my apartment the first and discovered that I had a free, instant, connection to the rest of the world, my friends, news, and vast amounts of midget porn, I wasn't about to wonder if it was "okay" to borrow the wireless signal. After all, if they really don't want someone using it, they could lock the signal, right?
The months rolled on, I got my foreigner registration card (which I needed in order to sign up for anything; internet, cell phone, bank account, etc), and I had a decent amount of green stuff stored in my bank account, but using something that was free seemed like a hell of a better idea. I wasn't heavily using the internet by any means; it was just a way to check my email and chat to friends occasionally; I also figured it was good karma for keeping my own internet connection open back home.
But all good things come to an end... kinda. The signal started becoming finicky, cutting in and out. Sometimes it would cut out for days on end. Needing my internet fix, I was desperate to find a way to get connected again. I looked at the box my mobile phone came in, and inside I found a cable that allowed me to connect it to my laptop. A few minutes later, I had my phone acting as a modem, connecting me to the internet. "Great!", I thought. I used it sparingly, knowing it was somewhat expensive. I checked my mail and news with it occasionally for a week or so until my free wireless signal finally kicked back on.
A week later, I started getting messages from my cellphone provider, saying something the lines of "Uh.. Mr. Peterson, we need you to contact us regarding your bill for next month, thank you". I figured 'Whatever, an extra 50-100 bucks isn't gonna kill me". But their persistence continued; after two more messages from the, I finally called them back. My "light usage" ended up costing me over $500.
Needless to say, I was pretty damned shocked. It would have been cheaper to sign up for internet from the get-go, but of course I didn't realize this months back.
Hindsight is 20/20!