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Philly Wi-Fi network gets stay of execution

Local investors plan to complete and improve the city's wireless network, which was abandoned last week by EarthLink.

Local investors have rescued Philadelphia's citywide Wi-Fi network.

Former Verizon executive Mark Rupp is part of an effort to complete and improve the $17 million project that was built but abandoned last week by EarthLink, according to a report Tuesday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said during a news conference Tuesday that no public funds would be used to complete or operate the project, although no further financial details were released.

The group plans to create an ad-supported service that would be free to residents, but businesses would be charged, according to the investment group.

EarthLink, which had filed a proceeding in federal court to start removing Wi-Fi radios from city streetlights and cap its potential liability at $1 million, reportedly welcomed the announcement and said it would work with the new owners on a smooth transition.

EarthLink announced on June 10 that it was abandoning the project after being unable to find a buyer for the network, which has been 80 percent completed. It also claimed that after months of negotiations with the city and a nonprofit group interested in running the network, it was unable to close the deal.

EarthLink, which won the contract in 2006 to build what was at the time to be the largest citywide Wi-Fi deployment in the nation, said earlier this year that it's getting out of the Wi-Fi business.

After the death of EarthLink CEO Garry Betty in early 2007, the company began wiggling out of several contracts with cities such as San Francisco and Houston. Early this year it announced it was abandoning the business altogether, and it started negotiating with five cities in which networks had already been built or partially built.