Metro wireless service changes were initiated by Waxman

If you rode the Metro over the weekend, most of you probably noticed you were able to get wireless reception, regardless of which carrier you have. On Friday night, the 20 busiest underground stations were hooked up to the wireless networks of T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint Nextel. Until now, Verizon Wireless customers, and Sprint customers roaming on that network, were the only ones able to make phone calls or send emails while underground.

Over the next year, the remaining 27 underground stations will be equipped with service. Then work starts on the tunnels, with half of them wired by 2011. All of them should be completed by 2012.

A lot of the media coverage mentioned the new service was part of a mandate from Congress. Few mentioned that it was initiated by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), while he was chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In the National Capital Transportation Amendments Act of 2007, Waxman offered an amendment in committee that would make sure customers, while rideing the rail system, would have access to services provded by any licensed wireless provider. The amendment was designed to address long-held public safety concerns. Repeated efforts had been made since 2000 to expand coverage options for riders, but litte progress had been made.

Waxman's amendment was designed to send a clear message to Metro to address the issue quickly, and it established a deadline for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to provide wireless access to riders throughought the system.

It seemed to be good practice for his current role of chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will be looking at several wireless-related issues over the next year.

The new wireless services could stir things up in the Washington market: many customers have stayed with Verizon Wireless mainly for service in the Metro. Will some move to AT&T to get the iPhone, now that they can get a signal on the trains?