Home View from Underground Business leaders push back on Boingo airport fees

Business leaders push back on Boingo airport fees

by Benjamin Kabak

One of my more frequently traveled airplane routes involves leaving from Terminal 5 and arriving in West Palm Beach. The trip to visit my grandfather via JetBlue takes me through two airport terminals with free WiFi, and I often forget that free isn’t necessarily the norm in New York City. When I had to fly out of Newark in late June, the Internet, to my dismay, wasn’t free.

It’s kind of crazy, when you think about it, that WiFi in New York City’s airports in 2013 costs money and that Boingo, the provider, doesn’t supply a particularly robust network at that. As a leading business hub, New York should probably have as much free WiFi as possible (although one could argue that charging a captive audience for WiFi is a solid business model). But Boingo signed up for a 15-year exclusive deal in 1999 with a ten-year renewal option. Now, as the window for Boingo to renew opens up, a group of New York business leaders are arguing for free Internet at the airports.

Crain’s New York profiles these efforts today. Nazish Dholakia writes:

The Global Gateway Alliance, created by New York developer Joseph Sitt to promote improvements at the airports, issued an open letter urging L.A.-based Boingo to provide free access to the 110 million passengers who use La Guardia, John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International airports each year. Boingo currently provides only paid Internet access at these airports, to the ire of many travelers…

New York’s airports are at Boingo’s mercy because of a contract it signed in 1999 with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airports. Under the terms of the 15-year deal, Boingo has exclusive rights to provide Internet access at all three airports and can renew it for another 10 years during a six-month window which began last week. “Boingo is operating under a very favorable contract that was signed during the Internet’s dark ages. We need to update that for a 21st-century model,” said Steve Sigmund, the executive director of the Alliance.

In its letter, the Alliance suggests Boingo adopt an advertising-supported model for free Internet access. As an alternative, it proposes a tiered system that is free for at least the first 30 minutes or provides options for both free and paid access. “It’s past time for our airports to offer what other airports offer—what even cafes and parks offer,” Mr. Sigmund said.

We know Boingo could pursue the ad-supported model, and we know it could work because of the current setup in the subways. Boingo supplies the Wifi that Transit Wireless makes available underground, and except for a brief spell earlier this summer when no sponsors came forward, the connection has been ad supported and otherwise free. I wouldn’t be surprised if Boingo could make more money, in fact, from an ad-supported network than it does through one that relies on users to pay a fee. The company has not yet responded to the Global Gateway Alliance.

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Alex September 5, 2013 - 6:22 pm

If Boingo has an exclusive contract that covers JFK, how is JetBlue able to offer free, non-Boingo wifi?

Phantom September 5, 2013 - 9:15 pm

I’ll never pay for that.

One can live without wifi for the 45 minutes it takes to catch a plane.

I won’t pay for a trolley cart either, which European airports provide without a fee for their customers.

BruceNY September 6, 2013 - 4:12 pm

The luggage cart is a much worse issue. It’s not just in Europe that these are provided without charge. Hong Kong, Tokyo, and probably most other world capitals’ airports do not charge. But the Port Authority thinks it’s acceptable. “Welcome to New York. Now that you’ve waited in an interminably long customs & immigration line, as well as having been fingerprinted, now fork over the credit card so that you can transport your luggage out to the curb where you will be assailed by all sorts of shady “taxi” drivers looking to fleece you. You’ll be tempted to take them up on their dubious offers since we have no direct rail access to Manhattan”. Great way to start a visit here.

Alon Levy September 6, 2013 - 7:46 pm

Can’t speak for others, but personally I think the multi-hour immigration line (“fuck you, non-Americans”) is a lot worse than not having a direct connection to Manhattan. The Jamaica transfer adds maybe 15 or 20 minutes to the trip, and those are minutes I can spend partially sitting down on the AirTrain and partially standing at one place at Jamaica Station. The immigration line at Terminal 4 averages more than an hour, and last time I was on it it was more than 2 hours.

Phantom September 6, 2013 - 8:10 pm


Yes, esp for a non English speaking or older person visiting for the first time, this confusing ” pay cart ” system is rude completely , unacceptable

And other US systems use it to. As if the airport operators don’t collect enough money for this minimal setvice.

vb September 7, 2013 - 9:02 pm

Especially for people who arrive without $1 or $5 bills and who do not have a credit card (a lot of countries use cash as their primary methods of payment and people do not carry bank/credit cards). Hey, welcome to New York! Good luck carrying all your luggage!

alen September 6, 2013 - 1:22 pm

is this such a big deal now that almost everyone has smartphones?

vb September 7, 2013 - 9:07 pm

Yes. I was in Terminal 1 and the cellphone reception there was horrible, I could not reliably use my phone Internet.

Phantom September 6, 2013 - 2:08 pm


Wifi is generally much faster but yes its not a big deal to me.

I’d like if boingo went out of business. I don’t see any value added – its a pricey service, and if they weren’t in the picture, it would be more likely that someone would offer something cheaper or supported by a certain amount of ads.

alen September 6, 2013 - 3:33 pm

technically the wifi is faster than LTE, but the actual circuit to the internet is rarely as much as the speed as the wifi network itself

and you also have the issue of a lot of people using the same frequency in a small space resulting in a slower speed for everyone

Jonah September 6, 2013 - 7:24 pm

I have to imagine that if Boingo thought they’d make more money via an ad-supported model, they’d have done that already.

vb September 7, 2013 - 9:08 pm

The last time I was there in terminal 1, they did offer 30 minutes of ad-supported free Internet on my iPhone. You had to download the Amazon app from the appstore and you can than use the Internet.

After it expired, the only options left was to pay or log in if you had a Boingo account. I tried doing the same thing on my iPad, but it was making me download the Kindle app, which I already have and can’t download again, so it wouldn’t let me on. I clicked decline sponsor in hopes of getting a different one, but then the option of free Internet went away completely and the only thing you could do was pay.

On a laptop, there was no option of free Internet at all.

Kai B September 6, 2013 - 8:41 pm

Unless things have changed in the last two years, I used to use Boingo via 99 cents per hour through the iTunes store. 99 cents is a perfectly acceptable price in my book.

This is back in the pre-LTE days when I would get 0.3Mb/s on 3G vs. maybe 3Mb/s on wi-fi. Nowadays I agree with alen. I have found AT&T’s LTE to almost always be much faster than any of these airport/coffeeshop wi-fi networks, so I don’t really care anymore.

In light of this, free wi-fi in subway stations mostly benefits tourists from abroad that can’t use the cellular network due to massive roaming charges.

Phantom September 6, 2013 - 8:57 pm


Thats certanly not the price that I saw, or what they offer the general public. I think i was more like $5 for 30 minutes

And they seem to have plenty of consumer complaints



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