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BART Ends Contract with WiFi Rail. Sorry, San Francisco and Oakland Commuters: No More Free Internet

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Officials from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) have confirmed that the agency has ended its license agreement with WiFi Rail (WFR) Inc. Beginning Jan. 5, the free wireless Internet service from WFR will no longer be available in downtown San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.

The termination of the agreement will have no effect on the cellphone service in some stations at BART. However, it may affect some connectivity in Muni and downtown BART stations.

According to BART, the company is "working to have mobile phone service throughout the remainder of our tunnels and underground stations, including those in Berkeley and on the Peninsula."

It was in 2009 when BART signed an agreement with Sacramento's WFR. Touted as an exclusive 20-year contract, the agreement stated that BART would provide the "horizontal real estate," while WFR would spend its own money in installing the infrastructure and creating the service. In return, WFR would be able to earn revenues when it eventually starts charging for the service.

Early in 2012, Cooper Lee, CEO of WFR, said that he was having difficulty in the project's funding. Moreover, there was also a struggle in dealing with BART officials on the date and place that they could begin working with WFR.

"The principal issue was trying to expand coverage, but they've been consistently blocking our ability to do so," said Lee. "We tried to negotiate with them over a variety of issues, but they canceled the agreement today for reasons that are not just or valid."

In January 2013, BART sounded some alarm bells over WFR. The transit company said that WFR was having issues in getting the needed capital to fulfill the agreement and noted that the riders were not only dissatisfied with the weak signal but were also complaining about the connection charges that they were asked to pay.

"BART has terminated its License Agreement with WiFi Rail, Inc (WFR)," said BART spokesman Jim Allison. "WFR has not submitted an adequate financial or technical plan for completing the network throughout the BART system. Also, the performance of the constructed portions of the network did not meet expectations."

While the announcement also said that BART is simply ending a trial period, WFR's CEO accused the transit agency's officials of illegal termination of a long-term contract. According to Lee, the agreement stated clearly how service complaints would be handled.

"The contract we have with them says that they are to let us know of any bad service and we correct it within 30 days," said Lee. "They haven't done that. Instead they canceled what was supposed to be a 20-year contract with no just cause."

Lee added that WFR is considering legal action on the case.

"BART can't just break the law all willy-nilly," said Lee.

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