An effort to get free Wi-Fi at Los Angeles International Airport ground to a halt today after the City Council raised concerns that airport officials improperly avoided a competitive bidding process in awarding a contract for the service.
T-Mobile currently offers Wi-Fi at the airport for a fee.
The council voted 13-0 to halt a decision by the Board of Airport Commissioners to expedite free Wi-Fi by offering a contract to Florida-based Advanced Wireless Group LLC without offering the opportunity to other providers. The council now has 21 days to affirm or overrule the commission's contract by a two-thirds majority vote.
If allowed to proceed, AWG could provide free Wi-Fi at LAX within 60 days, according to officials. The plan would allow travelers to see a 15-30 second advertisement before gaining access to 45 minutes of free internet access.
City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who called for the council to use its authority over the independent Airport Commission, said the airport's use of a sole-source contract instead of a competitive bidding process shut out local businesses, including Boingo Wireless, the largest Wi-Fi service provider in the world.
Debbie Bowers, Los Angeles World Airports deputy executive director for commercial development, said the airport needed to quickly choose a contractor because T-Mobile is eliminating its Wi-Fi service at LAX. A competitive bidding process that is also under way could take up to two years to complete and would not be enough time to ensure wireless access at the airport once T-Mobile pulls out.
The explanation did not satisfy the council. Councilman Dennis Zine said the decision raised suspicion. "I don't think its logical. I don't think its reasonable. I don't think its ethical," Zine said.
Airport officials believe the sole-source contract is not illegal, Bowers said, "because the city attorney advised us it wasn't."
Councilman Richard Alarcon countered that the city attorney's advice can be wrong. "I don't believe this contractor is the only one who can do this kind of work," Councilman Richard Alarcon said. "You are walking down a precarious, precedent setting path here."
Boingo vice president for business development Zack Sterngold told the council his company found out the airport selected a company to provide wireless service through a press release. "That's not exactly how we would have liked to find out about that opportunity," Sterngold told the council.
The City Council has 21 days to Councilman Tom LaBonge, who chairs the Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, said his committee would discuss the issue on Monday and get it back before the full council by the end of next week.