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Comcast Pushes Wireless Broadband In Washington

WASHINGTON — Whenever the Senate Communications Subcommittee gets around to rescheduling its hearing on wireless communications, Comcast, the nation’s largest wired cable operator, will be making a big pitch for wireless, including freeing up more unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi and freeing existing spectrum from restrictive rules.

The subcommittee canceled that hearing last week, but not before Multichannel News got a peek at the planned testimony of Comcast senior vice president of business development and strategy for communications and data services Tom Nagel.

Nagel plans to tell the subcommittee that the Federal Communications Commission needs to loosen restrictions on use of the 5-Gigahertz band if Wi-Fi is going to meet the growing Internet access needs of increasingly mobile customers.

That includes during emergencies like the Boston Marathon bombing. In the moments immediately following the blast, Comcast opened up its Wi-Fi access points as cellular service bogged down.

The company’s strategy for providing Wi-Fi data services, Nagel indicated, is to continue to ramp up the unlicensed spectrum hot spots, including accessing those of other providers.

Nagel said that the most popular method of accessing the Web is now via unlicensed technologies, which he points out in his testimony can sometimes be critical sources of connectivity in times of crisis. He used the Boston Marathon bombing as one example.

“[I]n the immediate aftermath of the recent attacks at the Boston Marathon, commercial mobile wireless networks were overloaded, but Comcast opened its network to anyone — including non- Comcast subscribers —with a Wi-Fi device, to establish communications with loved ones, leading to significantly increased usage of our Xfinity WiFi network in Boston and the surrounding communities,” he said in the testimony.

According to Nagel, Comcast has more than doubled its Wi-Fi hot spots (he calls them access points) from more than 25,000 at the end of 2012 to more than 55,000. Combined with agreements with other cable operators, Comcast subscribers now have access to more than 100,000 such access points, he intends to tell senators.

He was also prepared to say the company logs more user sessions in a month than it did in the first two-and-a-half years of the Xfinity Wi-Fi project.