Cable firms promise free Wifi roaming

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Five cable companies have teamed up to open their Wifi networks to each other's subscribers.

The deal gives customers of Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable access to over 50,000 hotspots.

It builds upon a 2010 agreement between Cablevision, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, allowing their customers in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Connecticut to access each other's Wifi hotspots.

Bright House Networks and Cablevision have already launched what they've dubbed 'CableWiFi' alongside their branded Wifi networks in the New York City area and central Florida. Over the next few months, the branding will be extended to each of the cable companies' hotspots.

"We believe that WiFi is a superior approach to mobile data, and that cable providers are best positioned to build the highest-capacity national network offering customers fast and reliable internet connections when away from their home or business broadband service," says Kristin Dolan, Cablevision’s senior executive vice president of product management and marketing.

"We've built an extensive Wifi network in our own service area, and see real value and potential in other leading providers joining with us to extend that connectivity to major markets across the country."

Customers will be able to connect to all five operators' networks using their existing sign-in process; soon, there'll be an auto-connect system in place.

The system will cover the companies' existing service areas - New York City and the surrounding Tri-State area, Los Angeles, Tampa, Orlando and Philadelphia. The operators say they plan to continue to grow the number of Wifi hotspots and expand into several more cities.

But the deal isn't pleasing everybody. Consumer group Public Knowledge says it may hamper competition and keep prices artificially high.

"Today's announcement that the largest cable companies are gathering to offer free Wi-fi only to their subscribers is very disappointing.  Wifi should be the competitor to wireless, but it won't be," says legal director Harold Feld.

"Wifi offers the opportunity for these companies to compete with wireless providers such as Verizon wireless, using Wifi roaming to build a rival footprint that could offer a cheaper alternative to consumers who find their iPads and smartphones constrained by aggressive bandwidth caps."