Free wi-fi at LAX? Forget about it

LAX-terminal6-gates.jpgThe Los Angeles City Council today blocked the airport's plans to offer free wireless at LAX, complaining that the deal reached by airport officials did not pass the smell test. Not that it was really going to be like other cities' free wireless — you would likely have to watch an ad — but it sounded better than the $9.95 that T-Mobile charges LAX inmates now. And worse, T-Mobile is getting out of the wireless business, so LAX could end up with no wi-fi service for passengers.

The department that oversees LAX agreed to a two-year, $663,333 contract with Miami-based Advanced Wireless Group to provide 45 minutes of free service, and charge a fee for longer usage. From Art Marroquin in the Daily Breeze:

Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino asked his colleagues to probe the circumstances surrounding the deal because airport officials selected Advanced Wireless Group as part of a sole-source contracting process, meaning the work could not be completed by anyone else.

In doing so, airport officials circumvented a competitive bidding process that shut out local businesses such as Los Angeles-based Boingo Wireless, which provides Wi-Fi service to 55 airports in North America.

"This is a subversion of our policies to support a competitive bidding process," Councilman Richard Alarcon said.

"How do we know this is the best service we can provide for LAX?" Alarcon said. "To give a company an advantage like this is just plain bad."

Now, it seems very possible that the real issue here is that the Council wasn't consulted, and thus Advanced Wireless Group and its representatives were not afforded the opportunity to make the relevant campaign contributions. At least one other company, Bongo Wireless, complained it didn't get to bid for the job. "All we're asking for is transparency and fair treatment," VP Zack Sterngold said. "LAX is the most important airport in the world to us and we would like to serve it."

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