Nation’s Big-Five Cable Companies to Share Wi-Fi Hotspots

Published June 27, 2012

Five cable companies will team up to enable each other’s high-speed Internet customers to access their wi-fi networks. The participating cable companies made a deal to share access to 50,000 wi-fi hotspots located in New York City and the surrounding tri-state area, as well as in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Tampa, and Orlando.

John Stephenson, director of the Communication and Technology Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, notes a distinction between the cable companies’ deal and municipal broadband.

“I would not call this a municipal wi-fi system or municipal broadband,” said Stephenson. “Either one is a government-owned broadband system. This is not a government-owned system. A private sector company is making it easier for their customers to use wi-fi wherever they go, wherever they need a hotspot, by sharing the hotspots,” Stephenson said.

‘Trial Markets Later This Year’
The roaming agreement between Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox Communications, and Time Warner Cable was announced May 21.

The deal between the nation’s five largest cable companies is the biggest and most inclusive wi-fi sharing effort to date. In 2010, Cablevision, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable entered into an agreement to allow their customers access to hotspots offered by each operator in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Connecticut.

The first leg of the plan is underway as Bright House Networks and Cablevision launched “CableWiFi” in the New York City area and central Florida in May.

“Cox is focused on connecting customers to things they care about, when, where, and how they prefer. Customers want access to secure and reliable high speed Internet at home, at their business, and on the go,” said Todd Smith, a spokesperson for Cox Communications.

Smith said Cox will try out the “CableWiFi” service in portions of northern Virginia and Connecticut later this year. “We’ll use 2012 to build this access and the following year to learn, assess, and make modifications as necessary. Cox residential and business customers will be able to participate after we begin offering this service in our trial markets later this year,” he said.

‘Static City Bureaucracies’
Michael Sanera, research director and local government analyst at the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina, says such private sector innovation is refreshing, especially since North Carolina has several prime examples of failed municipal wi-fi systems.

“Once again, private-sector innovation and entrepreneurship shows up static city bureaucracies,” Sanera said. “As we have predicted, it is folly for taxpayers to support city-owned cable systems that are incapable of this type of innovation. Private cable companies are giving consumers what they want, while city-owned cable systems here in North Carolina are failing to attract enough subscribers to pay their installation and operating bills,” Sanera said.

Stephenson agrees, saying, “This is a great example of the private sector providing a service to consumers. A private sector solution for a private sector problem.”

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.