Atlanta airport drops charge for Wi-Fi

At long last, free Wi-Fi arrives Wednesday at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The lack of free wireless Internet access has been the top complaint at the world’s busiest airport for years.

Now, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and airport officials hope its addition will address what interim airport manager Miguel Southwell has called a “competitive disadvantage.”

Hartsfield-Jackson has been charging $4.95 a day for Wi-Fi, in contrast to many U.S. airports where it is free.

Before removing the charge, airport officials had to put $5.6 million into an upgrade of the Wi-Fi infrastructure to handle the flood of users expected once the fee is dropped. The cost includes a $2 million incentive for contractor Johnson Controls to complete the work quickly after being awarded the contract earlier this year.

The old system could handle only about 2,000 users efficiently, but with the upgrade, airport officials expect as many as 15,000 can use the service at the same time.

At one point the fee-based Wi-Fi service brought in $1.5 million of revenue to the airport annually. The new free service is not supported by advertising today, but the airport may consider using ads to help fund maintenance, airport spokesman Reese McCranie said.

After airport officials decided in 2012 to lower the fee for Wi-Fi from $7.95 and work toward making it free, the contracting process for the infrastructure upgrade took more than a year, including an initial round of bids that was unsuccessful.

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