|Cable Free WiFi Hotspot Consortium|
The cable providers' partnership is similar to how cell phone carriers allow their customers to roam on other networks when traveling. That's intentional: The cable companies say they are looking to compete with mobile carriers' new 4G networks that make broadband-like speeds available everywhere.
A similar roaming agreement was announced in 2010 by Comcast, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable but it has had limited impact. The hot spots appeared on customer's devices under the separate brands of Cablevision's Optimum, Time Warner Cable's Road Runner and Comcast's Xfinity. The service wasn't fully built out in some of the denser areas—like Manhattan—and some customers reported difficulty signing on and getting decent Internet speeds. Cablevision's hot spots have been around since 2008, but only 30% of its broadband customers have used it. Cablevision said that about 250,000 of customers use its Wi-Fi every day.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless already offer something similar. AT&T has for years given its smartphone customers free access to AT&T-run Wi-Fi hotspots. AT&T owns more than 20,000 of them in the United States, many of which are located in Starbucks coffee shops and the like. AT&T also has a huge number of hotspots operating in the Times Square and theater district of Manhattan. It put this Wi-Fi network up years ago in part to help reduce the capacity crunch on its cellular network in that area. AT&T has made it seamless for smartphone subscribers to connect to Wi-Fi. As long as they are using an AT&T device, it automatically authenticates with the available AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot.
How will it work? Subscribers will use their log-in credentials for their service provider through a new website called "CableWiFi.com." The credentials will allow them to gain access to the Wi-Fi hotspots run by their own provider, as well as those operated by the other four providers.