Is New York poised to become the country's Wi-Fi capital? That's the prospect raised by the announcement that Cablevision Systems, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are teaming up to provide customers of any of the operators access to Wi-Fi hotspots across the New York City metro area.
The reciprocal agreements will allow authenticated users to go online through thousands of Wi-Fi locations throughout the region, chiefly via Cablevision's Optimum WiFi service. Time Warner's Wi-Fi service is more limited, encompassing seven parks including Bryant Park and Madison Square Park and several Long Island Railroad stations.
In the cable companies' announcement, Berge Ayvazian, a telecom industry analyst from research firm Heavy Reading, said the "historic agreement clearly makes the tri-state area the national leader in Wi-Fi." Take that, San Francisco.
Whether New York wears the official Wi-Fi crown, the expansion of Wi-Fi access via the cable companies is a boon for the city and provides a model for broadening Wi-Fi in other cities around the country. Until now, the options for Wi-Fi access in New York have been limited mostly to free hotspots in parks and other public places through municipal and nonprofit groups like NYCWireless and paid service through commercial outposts like Starbucks. And anyone who's ever tried to go online in Midtown through CBS' "Mobile Zone" service knows how frustrating that can be.
The cable Wi-Fi initiative adapts the "TV Everywhere" effort, led by Time Warner, that would require people to prove (or authenticate) they have a cable TV subscription to view certain programming online. But while consumers accustomed to free content online might bristle at that system, using that approach to provide free Wi-Fi access that customers might not have been able to get anyway in a given area, will be welcomed by most people. Especially if you're among the lucky few who already have an iPad and don't want to be limited to AT&T's 3G or wireless networks.
Of course, how seamlessly the Wi-Fi services of the three cable companies mesh, and how reliable and fast each service is with additional demand, remains to be seen. But the main question now is, "Why didn't this happen sooner than 2010?"