MTA to Put WiFi, Cell Service in Subway Stations

By Jillian Scharr
|  Monday, Jul 26, 2010  |  Updated 2:35 PM EDT
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MTA to Put WiFi, Cell Service in Subway Stations

The MTA is planning to outfit its subway stations with Wi-Fi and cell phone service.

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Sounds like it's official -- the MTA has approved a plan to wire subway stations for cell service and Wi-Fi, according to a report out today.

According to the contract with Transit Wireless, an initial round of Manhattan subways should be outfitted with cell service and Wi-Fi in two years, and the rest of the city's 277 subway stations would be finished four years after that, sources told the New York Daily News.

The services will be available in the stations and mezzanines, but probably won't work well in the tunnels.

It's good news for the MTA, whose budget woes have been in the news for months now, but what about commuters? Judging from a survey of riders at the Rockefeller Center station -- those who stopped to talk to NBCNewYork, that is -- many seemed generally in favor of cell service and Wi-Fi in the subways.

"Ambivalent," shrugged Jeff from Brooklyn. "Good," Victor from Queens said immediately; "of course" he'd use it, and looked surprised that someone would ask.  Another Brooklyn woman had an almost identical disyllabic response: "Great," and "yes" she would use it, with an expression that suggested anyone who didn't was crazy.

"I'm not one of those people who needs to be connected all the time, but I can see it coming in handy," said Deb from Queens.  Another woman pointed out that putting cell service in the subways is important in case of emergencies.

Others were more skeptical, and didn't seem eager to sit next to chatty cell phone users or texters. "They should keep it how it is," one Brooklyn man said, shaking his head.  "It's too much, putting Internet on the trains."

New Yorkers are not only always busy, but always on the alert.  One man expressed concern that Wi-Fi on subways would make them more susceptible to terrorists attacks.  Although this is probably an unfounded fear, others expressed skepticism of the MTA itself.

"It's a good plan, said Pachino from Queens, "but we need more trains and better services from the MTA... I'm a power user, so it'd be great to have Wi-Fi, to be connected all the time, but I don't think it's necessary right now."

"Yes, it's a good idea because technology does come in handy," said an elderly Brooklyn man, "but everybody uses the stuff too much." 

The project was approved in September 2007 but because the MTA doubted that Transit Wireless had enough funding to hold to the plan, it only gave the final go-ahead last week.

The MTA reportedly told Transit Wireless to lock in funding or they would lose their contract, one of the Daily News' sources said.  Transit Wireless brought another company into the project, Broadcast Australia, and agreed to the MTA's demands.

Transit Authority will cover the construction costs, and the MTA even stands to make a little money on the project.  Cell phone companies will pay Transit Authority to install their lines, and the MTA will receive half of the costs, reported the Daily News.

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