Comcast offers free Wi-Fi service to all in Sandy's path

The cable giant says it will open its Wi-Fi hot spots free of charge to anyone in several states where the megastorm Sandy has wreaked havoc.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
City workers clean up fallen branches from Sandy near the Asphalt Green fitness center on the Upper East Side's York Avenue. Shara Tibken/CNET

Comcast said today that it will allow anyone regardless of whether they are a customer or not to access its Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spots in several states hit by megastorm Sandy.

The cable operator, which with its cable partners operates 50,000 Wi-Fi hot spots in public places throughout country, said that it would make its hot spots available to anyone who needs them regardless of whether or not users are Comcast customers. (This service is typically password-protected and available only to Comcast or its partners' broadband customers.) The states where Comcast is offering the service include: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.

You can check the company's coverage map to see where a Comcast Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spot is available near you. To access the Wi-Fi hot spots, search for the "xfinitywifi" network name and click on the "Not a Comcast subscriber?" link at the bottom of the "Sign In" page. Then select the "Complimentary Trial Session" option from the drop-down list. Users will be able to renew their complimentary sessions every two hours through November 7, the company said.

The Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spots are located both indoors and outdoors in malls, shopping districts, parks, and train platforms. When searching for a Wi-Fi hot spot, keep in mind that if there is no commercial power available to that town or area, it's unlikely the hot spot will be up and running. Just like with your cable service at home, Comcast needs power in order to run the Wi-Fi hot spot networks.

The Federal Communications Commission said yesterday that roughly 25 percent of cable customers have been without service in 10 states affected by Hurricane Sandy, which hit the New Jersey coast on Monday night. Wireless operators also reported to the FCC on yesterday morning that 25 percent of their cell sites had been damaged or lost power due to the storm. And roughly 7 million to 8 million people were without power as of yesterday morning.

While many of the communities that are without power, wireless, or cable service may also not have Wi-Fi hot spot access points restored, there is a chance that adjacent communities might have service operating once again. And Comcast is encouraging people affected by the storm to use this service if they can find a hot spot that is working.

Comcast partners with other cable providers, including Cablevision and Time Warner Cable, to offer Wi-Fi hot spot services to customers in hot spots that are not in Comcast's territory. The free access will not work on any of these partner Wi-Fi hot spots. It only works on Comcast's own built and operated Wi-Fi networks.