Oct. 19--Though travelers can find free Wi-Fi in many airports, they'll have to wait longer for that to happen at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Free Wi-Fi -- among the most requested amenities at the world's busiest airport -- isn't coming until sometime next year, despite a fall 2013 goal the airport set last year.
Instead, travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson will continue to pay $4.95 a day for Wi-Fi as the airport, expecting a huge increase in demand when Wi-Fi becomes free, again seeks a company to upgrade the system. An attempt this summer to draw contract bids was unsuccessful.
With the airport serving as Atlanta's international calling card, some travelers see the lack of free Wi-Fi at Hartsfield-Jackson as a detriment to Atlanta's credibility as a world-class, tech-savvy hub. For people trying to get online, Wi-Fi access is often crucial for their laptops and tablets.
"I think that it's incredibly important for Atlanta as a truly international airport to be competitive with other airports like Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International and others that offer free Wi-Fi," said frequent traveler Jeff Goelz, a marketing and business development consultant who lives in Buckhead. "Why (can't) Atlanta be the truly world-class international airport that it is and offer the same service?"
For now, it isn't happening.
First, the airport needs to upgrade its Wi-Fi network's infrastructure. The airport's wireless system supports only 2,000 simultaneous public Wi-Fi users, according to a recent Atlanta City Council document. Hartsfield-Jackson serves as many as 250,000 passengers per day.
The airport solicited bids for the infrastructure upgrade this summer, drawing bids of nearly $3.1 million from CBX Technologies and $2.5 million from Johnson Controls for the work. But both were deemed non-responsive for either incorrectly filling out forms or not being qualified for the work.
Now, the airport is starting the bidding process over, with bids due Dec. 4. After the bids are reviewed, the contract must go through an Atlanta City Council approval process, then the work could take several months to complete.
Meanwhile, Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Louis Miller said the airport is analyzing whether to again drop the price charged for Wi-Fi. Last November, Hartsfield-Jackson reduced the price of Wi-Fi to $4.95 a day. At the time, it announced it would make it free as early as fall 2013, in time for holiday travelers.
"The problem is if we made it free now, it would overwhelm the system," Miller said. The airport also gets about $1.5 million in revenue annually from its Wi-Fi service.
It's unfortunately not unusual for the airport to have to rebid contracts. The city rebid a massive round of airport concessions contracts in 2011, and twice rebid a controversial airport shuttle contract, along with numerous other contracts.
And the path to free Wi-Fi at Hartsfield-Jackson has had other twists and turns.
In 2009, Hartsfield-Jackson in a report to the Atlanta City Council transportation committee said that it determined that "given the current economic climate, it is not feasible to forgo revenue received from the existing business model." At the same time, airport officials hoped to add a free Wi-Fi option subsidized by ads in 2010, though there was uncertainty on how much advertising revenue could be generated.
Now, with the proliferation of iPads and other mobile devices, airport spokesman Reese McCranie said it's "a sign of the times" that people expect free Wi-Fi. "We want to ensure passengers have the very best facilities, the very best concessions, and Wi-Fi," McCranie said.
Copyright 2013 - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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