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Cable Companies Partner On Wi-Fi Network

Most municipal Wi-Fi networks have folded, but a massive Wi-Fi network covering the largest municipality in the US -- Metropolitan New York -- has been formed by cobbling together the Wi-Fi networks of Cablevision Systems, Comcast Corp., and Time Warner Cable. And, the network is free of charge to the companies' customers.

Thousands of Wi-Fi access points have been installed in a wide geographic area ranging from the Hamptons on Long Island and the New Jersey Shore to four boroughs of New York City and the Hudson River Valley.

The announcement came as Verizon Wireless said it is expanding its wireless coverage in New York City with the activation of a new cell site in the Chelsea section of the city. Although the cell site will improve just a small section of the city, it is an example of how Verizon gradually has beefed up its wireless service in the city. AT&T, which has been under pressure to improve its network in the New York Metropolitan area, has also made a commitment to improving its mobile service there.

The Wi-Fi network will likely take much of the load over from mobile phone networks whose subscribers' handsets have Wi-Fi capability, such as Apple's iPhone. The three Wi-Fi providers -- all cable operators -- believe their new network will be copied eventually throughout the U.S.

"Cable providers interconnecting Wi-Fi services so customers can roam freely across networks is an extremely meaningful and transformative development," said John Bickham, president of cable and communications at Cablevision, in a statement. "This agreement -- the first of its kind and, we believe, the first of many -- combines the reach and the value of our respective Wi-Fi deployments and delivers fast and free wireless Internet access that stretches across the market, at a time when consumer demand for mobile data is exploding."

Beginning this week, every access point in the region is displaying authentication options for Cablevision's Optimum Wi-Fi, Time Warner Cable Wi-Fi, and Comcast Xfinity Wi-Fi. Customers of the three cable providers simply use their existing supplier's sign-on process.

"This interconnection and free roaming agreement among the three leading cable operators in the New York metropolitan area represents a major breakthrough for cable broadband customers," said Heavy Reading telecom industry analyst Berge Ayvazian, who added that the network extends wireless broadband connectivity to thousands of access points in the region. "This historic agreement clearly makes the tri-state area the national leader in Wi-Fi."

Competition among cable operators and telecommunications carriers has always been intensive, but it has been reaching extreme levels in recent months as telecom providers like AT&T and Verizon Communications increasingly challenge cable companies' TV offerings and as cable providers step up their telephone offerings.

A few years ago, scores of municipalities rushed to provide Wi-Fi service, but nearly all failed. The Cablevision-Comcast-Time Warner Wi-Fi network doesn't have any municipal involvement, but it appears to be offering similar service comparable to the service the municipalities had been planning.