Unlimited free Wi-Fi should be offered at LaGuardia, JFK, Newark airports, advocates say

Advocates wants unlimited free Wi-Fi at NYC area airports. Right now, you can only access 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi, through provider Boingo Wireless.
Advocates wants unlimited free Wi-Fi at NYC area airports. Right now, you can only access 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi, through provider Boingo Wireless. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jose Jordan

Transportation advocates want unlimited free Wi-Fi to take off at Port Authority airports.

After an anticipated 2.6 million commuters traveled through LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark airports during the Fourth of July Weekend, the Global Gateway Alliance is calling for the bi-state agency to expand its policy of 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi to unlimited, around-the-clock access.

Out of the 20 busiest American airports, LaGuardia, JFK and Newark are three of five that don’t provide the amenity, according to the alliance.

The Port Authority currently grants 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi, followed by hourly, daily and monthly charging options. (The Miami International and St. Paul International airports are the only two others on the alliance’s list without unlimited access.)

The group says the service, which has become an industry standard at major airports, will be greatly beneficial to commuters — especially considering that, in May, the TSA began recommending for travelers to arrive two hours before takeoff.

“With customs and wait times on the rise and delays all too common, 30 minutes of Wi-Fi is not enough,” said Joseph Sitt, chairman of the alliance. “To bring the region’s airports into the 21st century, the Port Authority must equip its airports with this critical amenity for the more than 122 million passengers who use the airport each year.”

Sitt recommends the Port Authority adopt Wi-Fi offerings similar to those at other facilities, like Boston’s Logan International Airport or Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which offer unlimited Wi-Fi with intermittent advertisements.

Last year, JetBlue began rolling out the service on all flights and within Terminal 5 of JFK.

“It would be nice to have Wi-Fi because the signal is bad at those airports,” said Rohit Kottapalli, 28, of Hell’s Kitchen.

Kottapalli, who was spending his July 4 in Central Park, said he usually bites the bullet after the 30-minute mark and switches to his carrier’s data, in lieu of buying more time.

“It should be either one or the other,” Kottapalli added. “Either give us free Wi-Fi or improve cell service.”

The alliance report comes a year after Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a $4 billion project to redesign and rebuild LaGuardia Airport, the dingy, outdated facility that Vice President Joe Biden had once likened to a “third world country.”

“It’s kind of old and not very friendly,” said tourist Pia Galvan, 30, of Uruguay, who flew into LaGuardia from Miami on June 29 to spend the holiday weekend in New York City. “I had no service when I landed and couldn’t call my mother.”

Galvan said that while she waited an hour at LaGuardia for her bus, she took advantage of the free internet service but declined to pay for more.

The Port Authority said it has been working to improve internet access. In 2014, it modified its agreement with its internet provider, Boingo Wireless, bringing $3.8 million in hardware and software improvements to launch its 30-minute free Wi-Fi service.

A year later, in December 2015, the wireless internet company rolled out tiered, enhanced Wi-Fi speeds for paying users in Port Authority airports. But the majority of flyers rarely opt for Boingo’s paid service. The company believes that’s because there are already a variety of free Wi-Fi services available through the likes of Time Warner Cable or American Express.

“The vast majority of travelers accessing Wi-Fi at NYPA airports are enjoying free, seamless connectivity through Passpoint, roaming partners, sponsored sessions or Comes With Boingo,” the company wrote in a statement. “In [the second quarter of] 2016, of the millions of Wi-Fi connects at NYPA airports, approximately 16% choose the faster premium access option.”

Through email, Port Authority spokeswoman Cheryl Albiez did not seem receptive to the alliance’s request to expand.

“The Port Authority already has re-negotiated an existing contract with its provider Boingo to provide 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi service throughout the terminals at John F. Kennedy International, Newark International, LaGuardia and Stewart International airports, while improving service speed and reliability for travelers,” Albiez said.