Comcast Providing Free Wi-Fi to New Jersey Commuters

UPDATED: Comcast joins Cablevision in exploring Wi-Fi as a new service, which will allow both to better compete in the communications marketplace against phone providers such as Verizon. Trials of a free Wi-Fi system for customers at New Jersey Transit commuter rail stations have been underway since Jan. 30.

Comcast has rolled out an early test of a free Wi-Fi system for customers who use the New Jersey Transit system. According to news reports, some 100 rail stations and parking lots will become wireless hot spots, accessible to Comcast customers who sign in with their user names and passwords.

Comcast spokesperson Mary Nell Westbrook told Broadband Reports that the local trial was a "beta test service" to gauge user interest. According to the company, the test will offer Wi-Fi speeds of 1.5M bps.

Participating stations include those in the Main-Bergen County area, the Northeast Corridor, Glen Rock, the Montclair-Boonton area, Morris, Essex, the North Jersey Coast, Pascack Valley and Raritan Valley, according to the Associated Press.

Comcast has been working with its rival, Cablevision, on technical testing for the free Wi-Fi service; both are attempting to compete with phone provider offerings such as Verizon FiOS. Should the trial prove successful, Comcast may roll out a nationwide Wi-Fi service, which would be separate from its pre-existing Clearwire wireless venture.

Cablevision already offers Wi-Fi in Long Island, Connecticut and Westchester/Dutchess counties.

New Jersey commuters should be interested in the service. According to a recent survey of 2,700 Wi-Fi users commissioned by Devicescape, a provider of Wi-Fi software solutions, some 91 percent expected Wi-Fi while on the road.

"Getting the service out there and offering it free of charge is an enhancement," Doug Williams, an analyst with Forrester Research, said in an interview. "It's a necessary move, because consumers' ability to pay in this economy is limited. With wireless, Comcast isn't competing against Cablevision; they're competing against telecoms, which do have a wireless affiliate."

Editor's Note: This article was updated to include additional information from Comcast and Forrester Research.