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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Atlanta airport inches toward free WiFi thanks to Council's $6 million funding approval

Why should travelers sleep or be bored at the airport when they can surf... THE INTERNET?
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Why should travelers sleep or be bored at the airport when they can surf... THE INTERNET?
The glorious era of free Internet service at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is now one step closer to reality.

The Atlanta City Council today unanimously approved $6 million to help fund WiFi infrastructure upgrades required to launch the free amenity at the world's busiest airport.

Back in October 2012, airport officials announced that WiFi charges would be eliminated "as early as fall 2013" once they completed necessary improvements. While the airport's current wireless capabilities can only support 4,000 simultaneous users, the extra cash would allow 15,000 people to surf the web at the same time.

"I think we have a world-class airport. It's the most important airport in the world. And I think we should have free Wi-Fi," Mayor Kasim Reed recently told WABE.

Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who chairs Council's transportation committee, tells CL she supported the bill after Interim General Manager Miguel Southwell resolved a few minor issues she initially had with the measure.

After Reed's office approves the $3.5 million contact, international tech firm Johnson Controls Inc., which has a metro Atlanta office, is expected to pitch a detailed plan to airport officials. Once officials approve the project, the company will begin the installation process. The firm could earn an additional $2 million in incentives if it finishes the work within 30 days.

"In terms of our guest services, the number one complaint we get as an airport is the need for free WiFi," Southwell tells CL. "People are telling us we can improve services through WiFi. Internet access has evolved over the years to where it's being perceived by our guests as an utility, more like an electric outlet where you'd charge a laptop or cell phone. Access to the Internet is now seen as that type of utility."

Southwell says the Atlanta airport's free WiFi expansion could cut down on approximately "25 to 50 percent" of all complaints received from its travelers. The free service is expected to launch sometime between March and mid-May.

This story has been updated to include additional information.

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