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McClatchy-Tribune  06/14/2014 10:08 AM ET
Comcast expanding Wi-Fi hotspots in Michigan [Detroit Free Press :: ]

June 14--Comcast is creating a network of 190,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across Michigan through its Xfinity brand as part of a national effort to link home and business-based Wi-Fi networks into one big blanket of coverage.

The company would give its existing customers high-speed wireless Web access at no additional charge throughout the country so they can watch TV and movies and surf the Web on laptops and mobile devices away from home.

"The infrastructure is in place, and we are becoming -- as a society -- data-centric," said Michelle Gilbert, spokeswoman for Comcast Cable's Heartland Region. "People want connectivity wherever they go."

The technology, which other telecommunication and media companies also are developing, would create a network that is accessible by anyone just about anywhere there are Xfinity customers.

Comcast, which seeks to merge with Time Warner Cable and spin off most of its Michigan customers into a new company, already has about 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide and plans to increase that eightfold by the end of the year.

Folks who aren't Comcast customers would be eligible for two free, 60-minute sessions a month and could purchase more access to the Wi-Fi service.

The service also creates opportunity for Comcast, which expects to cover 19 of the 30 largest metro areas in the nation, to attract new subscribers and compete with wireless providers such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, as customers seek to be connected all the time.

The service, for instance, would enable guests to a Comcast home to hop on the Internet network without asking for the homeowner's password, and it would allow smartphone owners to connect to the Web more often without cutting into their limited data plans.

At the same time, Wowway, a Denver-based cable company that competes with Comcast in Michigan, said it does not offer the service and has no plans to do so.

"It's a separate business model," said Robert DiNardo, vice president and general manager for the company's central region. "We also don't know what's going to happen with that because of Comcast's acquisition of Time Warner."

Comcast said it's unclear at this point how a spinoff would affect its hotspots or whether its proposed merger will be approved by federal regulators. If all goes as it expects, Comcast said it would be up to the spinoff company whether to continue offering hotspots.

The number of businesses and homes that have Wi-Fi has been growing in recent years. It's no longer just for coffee shops. Eateries, bars, salons, pharmacies, retailers, doctors and law offices, yoga centers -- even paint shops -- offer it now.

A Sherwin Williams paint store in Birmingham offers Wi-Fi service for customers who bring in iPads and smartphones. They use it to help match and sort colors. Employees said it's also helpful to have it for parents with children who need to be occupied while the parents plan their next great project.

Comcast plans to offer the service using its existing customers and Comcast equipment to provide the hotspots. The company offers a second Wi-Fi signal, which will allow anyone within range to get on the network.

To get on the network, users will need to register and then log-on with an ID or e-mail address and a password.

The second Wi-Fi signal appears as xfinitywifi on the list of available networks and is separate from the subscriber's signal. The company said the second signal shouldn't affect the customer's speed or privacy. To find a hotspot, customers can download the Xfinity Wi-Fi App or go to

Unlike efforts nearly a decade ago to link large areas such as all of Oakland County together without wires all at once, this plan makes Wi-Fi hotspots available one home and business at a time. As the cable provider gets more Internet customers, the Wi-Fi coverage area expands.

Customers can decline to allow Comcast to send the additional signal.

Most, the company said, are permitting it.

Still, not all businesses that have the Wi-Fi service are promoting it or are aware of the service for customers -- but that may be because the service is still new.

Brad Bannon, co-owner of Center Street Salon in Royal Oak, said he doesn't know of any clients that use the Xfinity network in the shop.

But George Lucaj, owner of George's restaurant in West Bloomfield, said he's happy with the service -- and his customers are, too. To show it, he's even put an Xfinity sticker up to help advertise that the service is available in the eatery.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or


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