San Francisco's BART ends deal with Wi-Fi provider Wi-Fi Rail

San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has terminated its agreement with its Wi-Fi provider, Wi-Fi Rail, and is no longer providing free Wi-Fi service to its passengers. However, Wi-Fi Rail is accusing the agency of backing out of its 20-year exclusive contract with the firm and is threatening legal action.

BART said in a statement that it was ending what it called a "trial" of the Wi-Fi service. The agency added that the service was only available in downtown areas of San Francisco and Oakland and in just 5 percent of the BART fleet.

In 2009 Wi-Fi Rail inked a 20-year contract with BART and promised to provide Wi-Fi services throughout the BART transit system that would be accessible to riders throughout BART's 104-mile regional rail system. At the time, Wi-Fi Rail said the service would be free to BART and would be paid for by rider subscriptions and advertising.

But BART officials say Wi-Fi Rail hasn't provided adequate details about how it plans to complete the network. In addition, they said that the network doesn't meet performance expectations.

However, Wi-Fi Rail CEO Cooper Lee told SF Gate that the company has installed $7 million worth of equipment in 55 train cars on the BART system. He added that BART officials have been unable or unwilling to meet with his company to discuss ways to resolve connectivity issues.

According to Wi-Fi Rail's website, the company uses Cisco gear but has developed patented Wi-Fi technology that is designed to address the specific technical needs of a commuter line.   

Providing Wi-Fi service on subways and other transit systems is becoming a bigger focus for cities.  Recently, New York City announced plans to build what it calls the fastest and largest free municipal Wi-Fi deployment in the world. The deployment includes providing wireless and Wi-Fi connectivity for 279 underground subway stations in NYC.   

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