Qwest To Roll Out Free Wi-Fi

It seems public Wi-Fi is becoming the newest pawn in the cable-telco tussle. Qwest Communications International Inc. is the latest service provider to ante up, announcing Thursday its Internet customers soon will have access to free nationwide Wi-Fi through a deal the carrier made with AT&T Inc. Details of the arrangement were not disclosed.

AT&T has nearly 20,000 domestic hotspots, and Qwest broadband customers will have access to 17,000 of them, including locations such as Starbucks, Barnes & Noble and McDonald’s restaurants.

Currently, AT&T provides free access to its domestic hotspots, to AT&T broadband customers and to some of wireless customers (iPhone, BlackBerry and LaptopConnect customers.) AT&T’s broadband customers used Wi-Fi connections to go online in the first quarter at more than triple the rate from a year ago, jumping to 10.5 million connections, the carrier said in its earnings report.

And, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Verizon Communications Inc. also is planning to offer free Wi-Fi as early as this summer through a deal with hotspot aggregator Boingo.

That takes care of the Big Three carriers. On the cablecos side, MSOs such as Bright House Networks, Cablevision and Comcast also have or are working on Wi-Fi offers. Underscoring the importance of the play, Cablevision reported its municipal Wi-Fi contributed to more than 70 percent sequential growth in its net subscriber additions for the fourth quarter of 2008.

Qwest High-Speed Internet customers are eligible to use the new Qwest service by locating the “QwestWiFi” service set identifier or SSID, which will be rolling out to venues over the next couple of weeks. Customers can visit to search Wi-Fi hotspot locations and to get login instructions.

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