Comcast, Cox, Time Warner partner on metro Wi-Fi

Bright House, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable partner on free-if-you're-a-customer wireless under the name "CableWifi."

Five U.S. cable giants -- Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable -- announced this morning that they will allow each other's high-speed Internet customers to access their metro Wi-Fi networks.

The effort extends a similar agreement in 2010 between Cablevision, Comcast and Time Warner Cable for their customers in Connecticut, New York City, Long Island, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

About 50,000 hotspots will carry the network name "CableWiFi" and allow cable customers to access wireless broadband Internet outside their home markets. For example, Cablevision customers in New York City will be able to use Bright House's network in central Florida, and vice-versa.

(Why is there almost no coverage in Manhattan, per the map above? I have no idea.)

The CableWiFi branding will be added by each cable company over the "next few months."

And thus begins a battle between cable providers and wireless carriers over customers' data: the cable companies insist that Wi-Fi  -- theirs, naturally -- is "a superior approach to mobile data."

But it's not all hostile. Comcast's Wi-Fi efforts have been conducted in partnership with Verizon Wireless, for example; it's probably not a bad idea to ease some of the bandwidth burden by letting paying customers spill over onto the cable companies' network -- after all, if you can access either, you've already paid for that service, whether or not you've used data.

The question is whether or not it will work as intended. For example, I'm writing this from Paris, France where I have access to the FreeWifi network; I've spent the last 48 hours banging my head against the proverbial wall as my mobile devices try, and fail, to connect to it. (Thank God for the hardwired CBSi France office.)

In sum, the new U.S. network knits together the metro areas of New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Tampa and Orlando. The cable companies say they plan to continue to grow the number of WiFi hotspots, which are generally located in high-traffic areas, and "expand into several additional cities."