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LAX WiFi contract moves forward to LA City Council

LAX Encounter restaurant

Photo by monkeytime | brachiator via Flickr Creative Commons

A fight over free wireless Internet at Los Angeles International Airport comes down to service vs. money, according to members of a Los Angeles City Council committee.

A proposal to provide free wireless Internet access to passengers at Los Angeles International Airport remained on life support today, as a divided city council committee agreed to move forward with the contract even though it is possible another company could provide a more lucrative opportunity.

The Los Angeles City Council is scheduled to review the contract with Advanced Wireless Group on Wednesday. The airport’s current WiFi provider, T-Mobile, will end service on July 16, according to representatives with Los Angeles World Airports. 

The two-year contract with Advanced Wireless Group will provide the airport with $663,000 in revenue. Representatives for a rival company, Boingo, told the Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee today they could provide 32 percent more revenue to the city. As it is, the current WiFi setup at LAX, which costs $9.99 per session, brings in $1 million a year in revenue.

However, Councilmen Bill Rosendahl and Tom LaBonge objected to Boingo’s request that the contract process be restarted.

“It’s real simple – the airport department vetted this but all of the sudden somebody’s running up to the gate saying I can give you a better pass, and we’ve already checked our bags, we’ve already gone through TSA, we’ve already got our seat assignment and we’re ready to takeoff,” LaBonge said.

Airport officials see the contract as a bridge till they approve a more permanent solution. LAWA representatives are in the process of looking for a vendor to spend $20 million to upgrade the airport’s fibers and antennas, which will allow the entire complex, including first responders, to use the WiFi. 

Councilman Joe Buscaino was the dissenting vote, arguing that the city was not getting the best deal possible because the contract was not awarded through a competitive process. 

“It’s our duty as elected officials to find the best deal and to make sure it’s lucrative, not only for the airport but for the city,” Buscaino said. 

In a minority report, Buscaino asked that the contract be sent back to the Board of Airport Commissioners. 

Free wireless Internet is available at City Hall and Van Nuys City Hall under a contract with Time Warner. Free WiFi is also available at city libraries thanks to deals with Clear, Time Warner and AT&T. Verizon provides wireless Internet at 67 parks and senior centers.

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