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Wi-Fi Bids For NYC Rails Flourish

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has received Wi-Fi proposals from telecom providers Cablevision, Sprint Nextel, and Verizon, among others.

In a move to equip New York City commuter trains with Wi-Fi service, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority said several firms have submitted bids to outfit trains with the wireless service.

The MTA reported Wednesday that it has received proposals ranging from several small firms to large telecom providers including Cablevision, Sprint Nextel, and Verizon. Combined, the Long Island Railroad and Metro North train lines serve three-quarters of a million commuters daily.

Cablevision believes it has a head start on the project, because it has already outfitted 96% of train platforms and parking lots in the region, making it relatively easy for it to extend the Wi-Fi service to trains. Wi-Fi transit applications, once vilified as most major attempts to institute municipal Wi-Fi service in U.S cities failed, has recently emerged as an important feature for broadband suppliers wishing to attract and retain subscribers.

In recent months, the MTA had been urged to install Wi-Fi on commuter trains by Senator Charles Schumer (D- NY), who chided the agency for dragging its feet on implementing the service. He noted that many major mass transit systems across the U.S. have long offered Wi-Fi to its patrons.

More than a year ago, Cablevision launched its $310 million Wi-Fi network -- which it calls "the nation's largest Wi-Fi network" -- aimed at providing Wi-Fi free to Cablevision's 2.4 million Internet customers in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state service area.

The Cablevision Wi-Fi network has been an effective weapon in retaining broadband customers as Verizon Communications aggressively enters its service area with its FiOS service. Verizon is also pressing Wi-Fi into service, offering free Wi-Fi service in airports and major hotel chains to FiOS customers through the Boingo service.

Sprint continues as a major player through the WiMax wide area wireless service it offers through its partnership with Clearwire.

The MTA recently awarded Transit Wireless LLC a contract to provide cell phone service in New York's underground subway stations. The authority expects formal bidding for the Wi-Fi contracts will take place at a later date.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on leading-edge government IT -- and how the technology involved may end up inside your business. Download the report here (registration required).

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