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Port Authority Light Rail Riders: Say Goodbye to Internet Dead Zones

January 31, 2017

By Eric Seiverling

Riders of the Port Authority of Allegheny County’s light rail system will no longer be frustrated with the lack of internet service at its most heavily used platforms.

At the authority’s Jan. 27 board meeting, board members unanimously agreed to enter into a license agreement with Comcast to allow the cable and Internet provider to install Xfinity WiFi hotspots in the authority’s seven light rail platforms located throughout the city of Pittsburgh.

The agreement will allow Port Authority riders to make a fast and free Internet connection using their cellular phones or other electronic devices while conserving cellular data plans.

“This provides us another amenity for our ridership,” Port Authority Spokesperson Adam Brandolph said after the board’s approval. “Our underground platforms are considered Internet dead zones, so this is a really good solution for us.”

The WiFi service, which is expected to be available by June of this year, will be provided free to both Xfinity customers and non-customers alike.

Comcast customers can sign in to the service using their existing user ID and password, while non-customers can sign in by agreeing to the service’s terms of use. As with all Xfinity hotspots, devices will only need to be registered once, and will automatically connect for all subsequent sessions.

The service will be available at the Port Authority’s Allegheny, North Side, Gateway, Wood Street, Steel Plaza, First Avenue and Station Square transit stations. Brandolph estimated that between 95 to 98 percent of Port Authority light rail riders use those stations on any given day. The service comes at no cost to Port Authority of Allegheny County or its riders.

“This is a very significant investment on Comcast’s part,” Comcast Cable Vice President of Public Relations Robert Grove said. “It’s a continuation of our investment in this region. This is a very nice fit for transit patrons and the Port Authority has been very supportive. We approached the Port Authority because our services fit their goals and we have a lot of experience with this technology.”

Pittsburgh now joins Philadelphia, Boston and southern New Jersey as cities where transit patrons have WiFi access from Comcast.

Comcast is the nation’s largest WiFi network provider with over 15 million hotspots, including thousands throughout Pittsburgh. The agreement also follows the growing trend of cities becoming more technology-friendly. According to mic.com, 57 cities now blanket their municipalities with free WiFi with the hopes of providing job opportunities, facilitating innovation and becoming more tech-friendly.

According to Grove, Comcast hopes to continue to grow its WiFi service throughout Pittsburgh.

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Pittsburgh’s Light Rail system. 

“We’ve just installed WiFi in 22 Pittsburgh city recreation centers, and we’ve got more announcements coming in the future,” Grove said.

Brandolph said the WiFi hotspots also will allow the Port Authority to provide other services to its riders, like real-time tracking of light rail vehicles.

“Riders will be able to see where their rail vehicle is right on their phone,” Brandolph said. “We may not be at the level of the bigger cities, but Pittsburgh has been faster to adopt this technology than most other cities.”

Port Authority riders can locate Xfinity WiFi hotspots at light rail stations and other areas in Pittsburgh by downloading the Xfinity WiFi app at www.xfinity.com/wifi.