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Boingo Takes Free Spin On Broadcast TV

Despite concerns expressed to me privately by several video programmers during the last couple of weeks, Boingo Wireless claims it has nailed up the necessary rights to distribute a mix of free and subscription-based TV programming to IP-connected set-tops and mobile devices via a managed Wi-Fi network it’s running at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base in San Diego County.  

That service, called Tornado and offered through Endeka Group, a company Boingo acquired earlier this year, offers troops there the ability to purchase video packages in daily, weekly, monthly or three-month increments. It also offers customers the option to buy premium packages from HBO, Starz and Showtime on a weekly basis.

As one source described it in a story that ran in this week’s issue of Multichannel News (subscription required), the daily TV option (base price: $5.95), essentially turns Monday Night Football on ESPN and Thursday Night Football on NFL Network into “pay-per-view events.”

In another seemingly controversial spin, Tornado also offers a "Free Basic" option that streams a day's worth of the local feeds of NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, and PBS over the Wi-Fi network to Tornado’s supported devices, which include company-supplied set-top boxes, PC browsers, and iOS and Android tablets and smartphones.

Boingo said Tornado sources a portion of its content and distribution rights from the National Telco Television Consortium and other parts through direct relationships with programmers, and claims the way it prices and packages video services is within the guidelines of its distribution and licensing rights.

"We believe our implementation is consistent with the rules and restrictions provided by our wide array of programming agreements, which includes many direct agreements,” Boingo said, in a statement. “Some provide more progressive terms for offering content to our customers and some provide more restrictive terms. We believe we abide by those terms, and will continue to engage all programming partners that have questions about the service we provide."

In addition to residential plans for individuals in the barracks, the Tornado service "also offers bulk IPTV service to organizations and business on bases, further increasing content delivery footprint where it was lacking in the past. Based on our agreements with NTTC and the guidance they have provided on implementation, Boingo believes it is in compliance with programming agreements," Boingo vice president of business development Tim Rout said in a statement to Multichannel News last week.

I’ve reached out to several programmers about all of this, and some, such as ESPN, have declined comment. Many others have continued to reservecomment as they conduct more research on Tornado.

Here’s what the NTTC had to say about it:

“In reference to Endeka…and their service to U.S. Military Base barracks, NTTC has never, nor would we ever, advise Endeka or any other operator that daily, weekly or a la carte delivery and packaging is a compliant option with our agreements, nor that delivery to any other devices not anchored to a compliant set top box architecture with applicable TVE [TV Everywhere] rights are approvable under any of our licenses. Architectures submitted to programmers by Endeka for licensing through NTTC were/are approved by programmers for set top box delivery only over a secured environment to these barracks/bases.”

And Boingo’s approach is getting traction. As I wrote in this week’s issue of Multichannel News, Boingo recently announced an expanded agreement with the Marine Corps Community Services to provide IPTV and broadband services at all U.S. Marines bases worldwide, starting with all U.S. bases and two facilities in Japan. Boingo also coupled that with a pact with the U.S. Army and Air Force to provide similar service packages on several large installations, including Fort Bliss (El Paso, Texas), Fort Benning (just outside of Columbus, Ga.), Fort Leonard Wood (Missouri Ozarks), Fort Campbell (Kentucky/Tennessee border) and Fort Irwin (San Bernardino County, Calif.), with launches expected to get underway as soon as the first quarter of 2014.

And if you’re interested in catching a first-hand glimpse of the current Tornado offers, you’ll have to pay a visit Camp Pendleton. Boingo coincidentally shut down public-facing access to Tornado’s customer portal on December 6, but still offers a more generic view of what it’s doing (sans any specific details about its packages and plans at Camp Pendleton) here and here.

But if you input the original Tornado portal URL (, you might be able to pull up some cached versions (the image to the side is of the portal’s home page before it disappeared from public view).

So, why did that portal soon disappear after I started to inquire about Tornado?

“The portal that you were able to access was only temporarily available on the Internet primarily for testing purposes,” the company said via email, noting that access to the portal is currently limited to Boingo’s on-base Wi-Fi network and that it has added updates that will make it more clear to customers which subset of channels are available on shorter-term plans, and to mobile device inside the barracks.

More to come as we get more feedback from the programmers about this emerging service...