Home MTA Technology Cablevision proposes WiFi for LIRR, Metro-North

Cablevision proposes WiFi for LIRR, Metro-North

by Benjamin Kabak

As the MTA looks to equip its commuter rail trains with WiFi access, a major player in the New York telecom scene has entered the fray. Cablevision, owner of Optimum Online, wants to extend its burgeoning WiFi network onto the trains. The company says it can accomplish a rollout in 12 months at no cost to the MTA.

“Access to the Internet on MTA trains will transform the riding experience, and we believe Cablevision is uniquely positioned to deliver this enhancement through the extension of Optimum WiFi – already the nation’s largest and most advanced WiFi network – onto the rails,” John Bickham, Cablevision’s president of cable and communications, said in a statement. “As a New York-based company already providing popular WiFi access at nearly 200 MTA commuter rail stations we propose to deploy wireless Internet access across the entire MTA system within 12 months of selection, at no cost to the Transportation Authority or taxpayers.”

In a press release, Cablevision touted the high points of its proposal:

Under Cablevision’s proposal, submitted to the MTA today, the company would provide unlimited free access to its Optimum Online high-speed Internet customers and would provide a reasonable access option for non-customers. Cablevision would assume all costs associated with extending its Optimum WiFi network onto the trains and would also create a separate, private and secure, WiFi network exclusively for MTA use…

One of the key advantages of the Cablevision proposal to the MTA is that it provides for trackside WiFi backhaul – connected to Cablevision’s fiber optic wired network – as opposed to cellular transmission, ensuring network availability and sufficient bandwidth for riders. Trackside WiFi backhaul can support more than triple the number of simultaneous users and data capacity than a cellular-only option, promoting customer satisfaction by delivering a positive experience.

According to a Multichannel News report, AT&T, RailBand Group LLC, Mastech Enterprises and Mobilite all submitted RFPs as well prior to the June 2 deadline. The MTA has not yet determined when it will select a carrier, and the authority has not yet put forward a potential timeline for installation and activation of a WiFi network for commuter rail. Needless to say, the sooner the better for New York’s economy and those who need or want to work on the ride home or just surf the Internet.

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Andrew @ NYaT June 4, 2010 - 12:06 pm

This would be tremendous and greatly welcomed. Two big questions for me:

1) How much would it cost?
2) Would it work in the Grand Central tunnel where all calls go to die?

Benjamin Kabak June 4, 2010 - 12:13 pm

Good questions, and I don’t have the answers yet. Cablevision would probably set rates based upon how much it costs them to install the equipment track-side. As for inside the GCT tunnels, I’d tend to doubt it would work, but I’d have to see if the RFP called for a wired tunnel.

Al D June 4, 2010 - 12:23 pm

2) You’d have to switch over to Skype or another similar carrier to call on WiFi.

Wes Mason June 13, 2011 - 5:49 am

Hint: we still don’t have it.

This was a rumor back in early 200o of Wifi on LIRR, still hasn’t happened. LIRR misses the real boat back then. So many exasperated riders would have gladly paid back then. Now we’re used to getting Mifi’s and cell tethering that even if we got it now, we’re used to internet everywhere. It would be alot harder to get a commuter to drop that type of access for LIRR wifi unless it’s much faster and consistent and more reliable (than the trains or their waiting room wifi).

JPN June 4, 2010 - 12:15 pm

As much as I don’t like the Cablevision management and its increasing media conglomeration, the cable and Internet services are pretty good. I was going to ask how Cablevision could go through Time Warner territory, but the linked article answers that.

Scott E June 4, 2010 - 12:31 pm

I remember reading the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) when it came out. I never read, or knew, that a RFP (Request for Proposals), so I don’t know what’s contained in there. However, if memory serves me correctly, the RFEI did include tunnels, but did not include the underground terminals. Coverage at GCT, Penn, and Atlantic Terminal would be under separate agreements. The RFP, as I just found (But haven’t yet read) is here.

The cost to the MTA would be (in theory) zero, although I don’t know if the contracted company would need to pay for the MTA’s time in reviewing and supervising the work. The MTA would also get free access to the system for its own users (onboard ticketing is a possibility). Subscribers to Cablevision’s TV service, and through intercarrier agreements, those of Time Warner and Comcast as well, would get free access. Others would pay an undisclosed access fee.

One small correction to the original post — in the last paragraph, it’s mentioned that several companies submitted RFPs. Actually, they responded to the MTA’s RFP by submitting proposals.

SEAN June 4, 2010 - 12:32 pm

At least it’s not Comcast. LOL

Alon Levy June 4, 2010 - 1:37 pm

Reasonable access for non-customers = expensive.

Instead of letting private corporations rule, here’s an idea: spend the money on providing free public wi-fi. No profiteering, no vendor lock, just infrastructure. If Amtrak can do it, so can the MTA.

Scott E June 4, 2010 - 2:41 pm

That would be ideal if they could afford to build and operate it. But when the MTA wants something for nothing, the only way is to allow a private company to earn a return on their investment, i.e. a profit.

Alon Levy June 4, 2010 - 5:34 pm

The MTA could at least try to do competitive bidding, or build the system and let private companies piggyback for a fee. Or it could do like Amtrak, hardly a profitable or efficient venture, and install wi-fi for free and figure the extra riders could pay for it.

Sharon June 4, 2010 - 9:02 pm

What is this resistant to a company making a profit. The mta job is to provide transit not managing data networks. Let the experts do that. Cablevision is just interesting in protecting it’s existing customers. That’s why they run the money loosing news 12 and optimum rewards cards. Cell and data tech changes so often. Let cablevision shoulder the cost of this money loosing business

Alon Levy June 4, 2010 - 10:07 pm

Cablevision is expert at providing wi-fi to people who pay Cablevision. That’s the objection.

Do you believe Megabus is in the data network management business?

Alex Engel June 7, 2010 - 2:35 am

Megabus’ WiFi is enough of a differentiator for them to attract customers to their service in a crowded field including private cars, planes, Amtrak and other bus companies. The MTA already has a very high market share of riders to Manhattan (I believe I read it’s around 80% for LIRR). While I would prefer an open/free WiFi option, the MTA cannot finance it now, and the minimal ridership gains they might see (thankfully because of their already high ridership) would not be enough to pay for the system.

Alon Levy June 7, 2010 - 2:55 am

The LIRR and Metro-North have more than 80% of the market of people who work in Manhattan at rush hour. But that particular market isn’t very big, in relative terms, nor is it growing. Metro-North’s growth market is reverse commuters, among which its mode share is in the low single digits. And the LIRR’s market share for people working in Brooklyn and Queens isn’t high. The off-peak commute-to-Manhattan market is not large, but there’s potential for gain there for little cost.

Another market that would be well-served by free wi-fi is intercity travel between New York and the ends of the lines – the Hamptons, Poughkeepsie, and New Haven. This market is still dominated by driving, but free wi-fi could help lure people in. This market is especially lucrative given that intercity travelers pay full fare.

Those markets are especially good because they do not require extra capacity. An extra off-peak rider is therefore less expensive to the MTA than an extra peak rider, who on the margin might require adding an extra train or an extra conductor.

John Allegro June 10, 2010 - 10:17 am

There’s no such thing as “free”. One way or the other, the wifi would need to be subsidized. I’d rather see it be a matter of choice – subscribe to Cablevision or pay a monthly fee – than to pay for it involuntarily through a fare hike or annoying splash pages with adverts.

If the cost is comparable to a cell carrier air card, then Cablevision non-subscribers can choose their method of access.

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[…] Cablevision and its proposal to equip the LIRR and Metro-North with WiFi carries with it a big brand name — and many skeptical engineers — another wireless […]


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