Time Warner Offers Free Wi-Fi to NYC Customers

Published May 10, 2010

Time Warner Corporation has begun offering free Internet wi-fi to its New York customers, in contrast to municipal wi-fi programs that end up costing taxpayers money.

The free service, which ramped up in April, will operate in eight Long Island Railroad stations. Cablevision subscribers can access the network as well, which also includes several wi-fi “hot spots” in New York City—three in Manhattan and four in public parks in Queens.

“This new, free wi-fi option adds another dimension for customers, bringing even more convenience,” said Howard Szarfarc, executive vice president of Time Warner’s New York City Region, in a press statement. “Customers can experience a fast, simple, and easy connection from their laptops or portable wi-fi-enabled devices in Time Warner Cable wi-fi zones, meeting their growing need for mobility.”

Other Expected to Follow Suit
Industry analysts believe Comcast—the largest provider of residential wi-fi in the country— will soon follow suit.

Bob Crandall, a telecommunications expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC and the author of numerous studies and books on broadband and telecommunications regulation, says offering free wi-fi is a “pragmatic business decision.”

He says companies such as Time Warner and Comcast have to start offering free wi-fi to larger and larger segments of the population if they want to remain in the Internet business at all.

“Comcast and Time Warner have to do something to counter the wireless providers’ 3G and 4G offerings that may be substitutes for fixed-wire broadband for many users,” Crandall said. “4G wireless is the Internet provided through companies like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon on smartphones that threaten to erode Time Warner’s Cablevision residental wi-fi business as well as Comcast’s.”

Government vs. Market
Sascha Meinrath, a telecommunications analyst at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC, is not a fan of Time Warner’s decision to offer free wi-fi. He prefers government systems, saying people should continue to use generally slower municipal wi-fi networks such as NYCwireless in New York, which requires taxpayer support.

“NYCwireless has continued to provide free wireless hotspot access to everyone in various locations around New York,” Meinrath said. “It continues to work quietly, but has been a fantastic community resource serving all residents who want to get online from these hotspots. Time Warner’s project still does too little to support universal broadband access,” Meinrath said.

Crandall, however, predicts more Internet service providers (ISPs), especially cable companies, will offer free wi-fi as a way to compete with nationwide wireless broadband providers.

“Since Comcast and Time Warner do not have national wireless networks, they may be cobbling together something that competes with 3G and 4G in their franchise areas,” Crandall said.

Thomas Cheplick
([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.