By Michelle Manchir
4:38 PM CDT, October 3, 2013
Riders on the Blue and Red lines won't have to brace for an Internet blackout every time they're taken underground on trips to the Loop under a Chicago Transit Authority plan, announced Thursday, to expand wireless service.
The CTA is seeking telecommunications companies to upgrade the underground wireless network, which now essentially allows for voice service only, to a 4G system that allows for data capabilities like texting and Web browsing, said CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski.
"We're moving from the first generation to the latest generation of wireless technology," she said.
Under the enhanced service, smartphone and tablet users could, ideally, continue refreshing their Facebook feeds and tuning into their favorite podcasts during their commutes when they're going through underground tunnels or walking into underground passageways connecting rail lines, Hosinski said. The CTA has about 12 miles of subway on its Red and Blue lines.
The agency announced this week that it has begun seeking interested bidders who would upgrade system infrastructure to allow for the upgraded services, Hosinski said. Project costs, which are expected be paid for by the capital program, are yet to be determined. If the procurement process goes as planned, construction on an upgraded system could begin as soon as mid-2014, Hosinski said.
Some commuters celebrated Thursday's announcement.
Josh Lewis, 28, who said he takes the Red Line every day from his home in Edgewater to the Loop, tweeted the announcement, adding his own celebratory comment: "Yes!"
"It's good news for me," said Lewis, a public relations associate who likes to listen to National Public Radio during his commute.
"In between stations it's a dead zone," he said. "It's exciting we'll be able to stay connected even on the short little trips underground."
The CTA currently owns and leases its subway cellular network to six major wireless service providers, officials said, which generates about $1.8 million in revenue each year.
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