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New York airports play catch up on free Wi-Fi access

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Airports in the New York City area will soon join others in major U.S. cities that offer free wireless Internet access, under a plan approved on Wednesday by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Board of Commissioners.

Under the proposal, customers at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia international airports in New York as well as New Jersey's Newark Liberty International will be allowed 30 minutes of free Internet, said port authority head Patrick Foye.

As part of the contract with Internet provider Boingo Wireless, free Internet access would begin as early as this fall. Customers using Wi-Fi beyond the initial free 30 minutes would be charged a fee.

The board's vote comes at a time when most major airports in the United States have already switched from paid to free Internet access for patrons, many of them served by Boingo.

LaGuardia, JFK and Newark are among five major airports in the United States without free Wi-Fi, according to a report by the Global Gateway Alliance, a group that lobbies for New York airport infrastructure improvements. The other two airports are Chicago O'Hare International Airport and Miami International Airport.

The world's 15 busiest airports all offer some free Internet access, the alliance said in a statement.

“Today’s action (will) bring us nearer to par with these competitors and take our airports a step closer to excellence," the group said.

The new agreement revises a contract signed in 1999 with Boingo, which required patrons at the airport to pay for all Internet access, the group said.

Boingo will be required to spend $3.8 million to provide software and hardware to expand access, and strengthen signal connections and Internet speeds as part of the deal, Foye said.

"When we poll our customers, free Wi-Fi is the amenity that they most often requested," he said.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Eric Beech)

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