Cablevision will offer free Wi-Fi to its customers across a swath of New York: The company will spend an astounding $350m over two years--roughly $100 per customer--to put in service that they peg at offering 1.5 Mbps downstream rates. Broadband subscribers to their Optimum Online broadband service, which has rates of 15/2 and 30/5 Mbps. Others will pay for access. The company has 3.1m cable customers in New York.
This is the first large-scale Wi-Fi network announced that had no public/private component to it. While Verizon once said they'd blanket New York City with payphone-based Wi-Fi nodes, that never materialized, and it was unclear how seamless the coverage would ever be. This is a full-blown metro-scale network that's not beholden to any political interest, and which can likely use mounting rights already available to Cablevision. (In the past, I've said this, and folks have said that franchising agreements would exclude additional mounted equipment of this kind. Years later, I have to say I've never found anything to support that opinion, but welcome more documented information in the comments.)
The idea is for Wi-Fi to act as a mobile broadband component for Cablevision, to dilute the impact of the Sprint/Clearwire deal announced yesterday. While cable companies rarely compete in a given territory, the Sprint/Clearwire joint venture will make it easier for a customer to get home and mobile broadband and voice from one company, and then turn to another firm for video. This buys Cablevision a quadruple play (voice, video, data, mobile broadband) with a future quintuple play by adding (as they say they will) voice over Wi-Fi service.
Sources indicate that BelAir equipment will be used, which makes sense given BelAir's release nearly three years ago of a cable-plant compatible Wi-Fi node designed essentially for precisely this contingency. This is a nice win for BelAir, which will likely be selling somewhere north of 15,000 nodes based on the coverage area and service described. BelAir gear also powers Minneapolis, the only successfully completed big-city Wi-Fi network in North America.