Free Wi-Fi Expands with AT&T, Cablevision

Hate paying for Wi-Fi but want a reliable, decent connection that your corner coffeeshop might not be able to offer? (Mine can, but that's not uniformly the case.) Two developments this week may keep your pocketbook full. AT&T slipped out and Cablevision announced significant additions in Wi-Fi access for their current customers.AT&T is taking over the Wi-Fi service from T-Mobile for Starbucks corporate-owned, standalone stores--over 7,000 in the U.S.--and slipped their kimono last week by accidentally (perhaps) making an iPhone-tailored gateway page available at Starbucks that prompted subscribers for their cell number. Enter it, and you were in, gratis.That portal disappeared after a few days, but AT&T revised its iPhone plan features sometime in the last day or two to include access to all 17,000 of its domestic hotspots at no additional cost to iPhone subscribers. (That's 17,000 once the Starbucks transition is done, but T-Mobile and AT&T are engaged in a very goodsportsman-like handover in which subscribers to both networks will have access throughout; T-Mobile HotSpot subscribers will continue to have service for at least five years at Starbucks locations, too.)AT&T already offers free Wi-Fi on its domestic network (excluding hotels and some airports, but including McDonald's, Barnes and Noble, and Starbucks) to its 1.5 Mbps and faster DSL customers, all fiber subscribers, and remote business access users--12 million in all! (Just as I was about to post this, Computerworld's Gregg Keizer posted this story that AT&T had scrubbed that information from their site. Up, down, up, down, let's not call the whole thing off. It'll be back--but maybe not until the June 9 Apple developer's conference kickoff at which the iPhone 2.0 software, production software developer's kit, and 3G iPhone are all expected to ship or be released.)Cablevision meanwhile dropped a bombshell today when they announced that they'd be building a $350 million--yes, million--Wi-Fi network across a big hunk of their coverage territory in New York, especially focused on Long Island. This service will be built over two years and be free to its millions of cable broadband subscribers, who already get among the highest speeds of any cable system in the US: 15/2 Mbps (downstream/upstream) and 30/5 Mbps flavors are their two listed offerings. Non-subscribers will pay to use the network, which they claim will have 1.5 Mbps of downstream Wi-Fi service.Cablevision is building this network clearly to remain in play with a "quadruple" play: that is, voice, fixed broadband, video, and mobile broadband. Sprint and Clearwire's deal with Intel, Google, Comcast, Time Warner, and other cable operators has both a direct and indirect impact on Cablevision, which while not in competition with other cable providers, must fight back other video, data, mobile, and voice firms.All I know is that additional services at no additional cost means a win for the consumer, and I'm happy to see it continue to expand. 

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