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.