Metro to add wireless phone and wi-fi, but it might not be free

Red Line at 7th Street/Metro Center.
Red Line at 7th Street/Metro Center.
Todd Johnson/KPCC

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Metro's underground rail stations and tunnels are dead spots for wi-fi and mobile phones, but that's likely to change as early as May.

Hockey fan Rob Harol takes the Expo line downtown often to see the Kings play, but said he gets frustrated when he loses wireless connectivity when he descends to an underground station or whooshes through the light rail line's tunnels.

He's a product manager for a West Hollywood entertainment company. He says having reliable phone and wi-fi on the Metro would make his trips more productive and pleasant.

"I'm so dependent on my phone and checking Twitter and other social media or reading email from work," Harol said. 

Plenty of other subways have wireless service - Now Metro is close to adding its own.

It is structured to be a moneymaker.

InSite Wireless LLC is installing the$800,000 system and will pay Metro at least $360,000 a year over the 20-year lifespan of the 2013 contract.

Companies like Verizon or AT&T would have to strike a deal with InSite to give their mobile phone customers access to the signal carried on InSite's wireless equipment. The company's contract requires it to pay Metro half the revenue collected from those wireless carriers.

The wi-fi signal in tunnels and stations is a different matter. It might be free, or it might cost riders to use, said Stephen Tu, a manager of operations and services delivery at Metro. It's up to the company to decide how to make money off the wi-fi.

Downtown tunnels and stations on the Red and Purple lines will get the service first, beginning in  about May.