The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority plans to expand the number of companies providing wireless service at its 20 busiest Metrorail stations Friday, ending an exclusive agreement with Verizon Wireless.
The addition will allow AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel customers access to their own providers without having to roam on the Verizon network in underground stations.
“Customers have been asking for expanded cell phone and Internet access in the Metrorail system for a long time,” Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said.
Though there have been reports of AT&T phones showing signal strength at stations such as L’Enfant Plaza and parts of Gallery Place-Chinatown, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said the signals are not related to the expanded service provided on Friday.
In 1993, Metro agreed to allow Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems, which later became Verizon Wireless, to build a wireless network in the underground system in exchange for a public safety radio communications network and $20,000 per year.
Earlier this year, Metro’s board of directors negotiated a $40 million, long-term contract with the four cell phone companies expected to generate at least $25 million in fees to Metro over the next 15 years.
The agreement requires Metro to have the expanded wireless service up and running in the 20 busiest stations by Friday and in all 47 underground stations by October 2010.
However, the entire system, including the tunnels, is not required to be finished until October 2012, meaning calls may be lost as trains pull away from the platforms.
The installment of the new wireless service is part of a three-year agreement with Congress required by a federal authorization last October of $1.5 billion over 10 years for Metrorail maintenance.
Mr. Taubenkibel said the transit agency is still set to initiate the new network in the following stations: Ballston, Bethesda, Columbia Heights, Crystal City, Dupont Circle, Farragut North, Farragut West, Federal Triangle, Foggy Bottom-GWU, Friendship Heights, Gallery PIace-Chinatown, Judiciary Square, L’Enfant Plaza, McPherson Square, Metro Center, Pentagon, Pentagon City, Rossyln, Smithsonian and Union Station.