Los Angeles, CA -- The Los Angeles City Council approved a plan Wednesday to offer free Wi-Fi at Los Angeles International Airport beginning in mid-July, despite concerns raised that the contractor that will install and run the service was hired inappropriately.
The council voted 11-1 in favor of hiring Florida-based Advanced Wireless Group LLC without entertaining bids from other wireless Internet providers. The council also requested an audit of how airport officials selected AWG, which operates Wi-Fi service at airports in Miami, Boston and, soon, San Francisco.
Under the new service, set to go into effect on July 16, travelers will see a 15- to 30-second advertisement before gaining access to 45 minutes of free Wi-Fi.
The Board of Airport Commissioners, which oversees LAX, approved the contract with AWG on June 4. The City Council last week used its authority over the commission to halt the plan after Councilman Joe Buscaino questioned whether it was the best deal for the city and argued that local firm Boingo Wireless should have been given a shot at the contract.
"The airport awarded a sole-source contract that really doesn't maximize revenues, doesn't guarantee good service and isn't even going to a local Los Angeles-based company," Buscaino said.
Airport officials defended the contract and said halting it would put LAX at risk of having no Wi-Fi starting July 16. That's when telecommunications company T-Mobile plans to turn off its fee-based Wi-Fi service at LAX, according to Los Angeles World Airport officials.
LAWA Chief Operating Officer Steve Martin said the contract with AWG is performance-based and requires the company to spend as much money as necessary to provide a fast wireless connection across the entire airport. Martin characterized the contract with AWG as a short-term "bridge solution" to maintain Wi-Fi access at the airport after T-Mobile pulls out.
He told the council the real solution will involve a competitive bidding process for a much more advanced $20 million antenna-based wireless system that will accommodate passengers, as well as secure public safety and internal wireless communication at LAX. LAWA said the competitive bidding process, necessary infrastructure work and testing of the system could take up to three years to complete.
Council members agreed the airport should not go even one day without passenger access to wireless Internet, but members of the panel expressed anger over how airport officials handled the process.
"You should not let the airport negotiate like this. This is a horrible situation," Councilman Richard Alarcon said.
"Hopefully lessons have been learned," said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes LAX.
AWG Chief Executive Officer Scott Phillips said he was pleased with the council's decision to move forward and "that Wi-Fi will be available to the passengers at LAX on an uninterrupted basis."
Phillips said his company would invest whatever is required to meet the specifications of the contract, estimated at between $600,000 and $800,000.