Cablevision Bids To Put Wi-Fi On MTA's Commuter Trains

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Cablevision Systems has submitted a proposal to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to provide Wi-Fi network access on some 2,264 Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North passenger train cars within 12 months of selection -- at no cost to the transit group -- that would offer free access to cable broadband customers and "reasonable" rates for non-subscribers.

The MSO's submission was in response to a formal MTA request for proposals; the actual RFP is confidential under the bidding process. Last fall, Cablevision expressed its interest in providing the Wi-Fi service in response to a preliminary MTA inquiry.

Other companies submitting bids for the MTA's Wi-Fi project include AT&T, RailBand Group LLC, Mastech Enterprises and Mobilite. The RFPs were due Wednesday, June 2. There is no set date by which the MTA will select a provider, according to MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders.

Under Cablevision's proposal, 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 also would create a separate, secure Wi-Fi network exclusively for MTA use.

Cablevision's Wi-Fi service covers "tens of thousands of access points" across its New York, New Jersey and Connecticut footprint, including on the train platforms and in parking lots at nearly 200 MTA commuter rail stations. The operator's Wi-Fi service is concentrated in high-traffic and commercial locations, downtown areas, parks and large indoor facilities including Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Long Island MacArthur Airport and regional shopping centers including the Bergen Town Center.

In addition, Cablevision has reciprocal-access agreements with both Comcast and Time Warner Cable to allow each MSO's customers to access the Wi-Fi networks operated by any of the three companies.

"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 Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi 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."

According to the MTA's request for proposals, released March 12, the transit authority's Metro-North and LIRR departments will specify and oversee the wireless access point installation on board the trains. The Wi-Fi network will be tested on tracks where trains can achieve a rate of speed of at least 60 MPH, and provide access to Wi-Fi-enabled handsets such as Palm, BlackBerry and other smartphones.

Cablevision said its customers access the Optimum Wi-Fi service more than 3 million times per month. The wireless network offers speeds up to 3 Megabits per second downstream and 1.5 Mbps upstream.

According to the cable operator, a key advantage of its proposal to the MTA is that it provides for "trackside" Wi-Fi backhaul over Cablevision's hybrid fiber coax network -- as opposed to cellular transmission. Cablevision claims its HFC-based backhaul approach can support more than three times the number of simultaneous users and data capacity than a cellular-based option.

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