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2/2/2009
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San Francisco Commuters Getting Wi-Fi On BART

The agreement will establish high-speed mobile access throughout 104 miles of track and 43 train stations by the end of 2011.

BART Train Picking Up Passengers
BART train picking up passengers

The San Francisco area's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District is the latest transit system to announce plans to provide Wi-Fi access for its commuters for the next 20 years.

Announced Monday by BART and Wi-Fi Rail Inc., the agreement will establish high-speed mobile access throughout 104 miles of track and 43 BART stations by the end of 2011.

The network already has been tested for free by more than 15,000 consumers in a limited area of the BART system. The deal comes as transit systems are increasingly filling the Wi-Fi gaps created after the failure of most municipal attempts to provide robust Wi-Fi service.

BART's wireless plan would differ from other transit systems in that Wi-Fi Rail plans to utilize fiber-optic equipment for the service. Other commuter Wi-Fi systems generally use satellite or cell phone infrastructure to deliver Wi-Fi service to consumers.

"This is a unique opportunity to demonstrate what high-speed Wi-Fi access, interconnected by a huge fiber-optic backbone, can mean to a transit system and its passengers," Wi-Fi Rail CEO Cooper Lee said in a statement.

The contract between BART and Wi-Fi Rail calls for selected segments of the network to be built during 2009. Already, four downtown San Francisco station and 2.2 miles of BART track have been available for testing for months by consumers. When the network reaches various scheduled completed dates, consumers will be able to sign up for the service for a reported $300 a year or a $30-a-month fee. A two-hour price likely will be set at $6. The service will be rolled out incrementally.

Wi-Fi Rail said the network, when completed, will be the nation's largest high-bandwidth Internet LAN. The network, the company added, also will support public-safety and security efforts. Wi-Fi Rail cited studies that indicate that more than 70% of commuter rail travelers carry a Wi-Fi-enabled device.

Another pioneering commuter system that's supplying Wi-Fi to its commuters is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which has outfitted commuter trains and commuter boat service with Wi-Fi. The Massachusetts service is free for its commuters. Like San Francisco, the Boston commuter service was instituted after efforts to roll out municipal Wi-Fi hotspots largely failed.

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