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Philly moves forward with Wi-Fi plan

The city outlines its planned Wi-Fi project and signs the final contract with EarthLink.

The city of Philadelphia detailed its plan to blanket the city with Wi-Fi after signing its final contract with EarthLink, which will build and operate the network on behalf of the city.

The city said Wednesday that pricing of the broadband service will be kept below $20 per month. Economically disadvantaged users will be charged $9.95 a month, while other Internet service providers will be charged a wholesale rate that allows them to sell access for $20 a month or less to retail customers, the city said.

Comcast, which offers cable modem service in Philadelphia, offers a three-month special on its broadband service for $19.99. After that, the price shoots up to $42.95 per month for customers who also subscribe to its cable TV service and $57.95 for those who don't subscribe to its cable TV service. But Verizon Communications, which sells DSL (digital subscriber line) service in Philadelphia, offers a comparable broadband service for $14.95.

Still, city officials say that the new Wi-Fi network will offer consumers more choices without risking taxpayer money. As part of the deal with the city, EarthLink will build, manage and maintain the wireless network.

The next step in the process requires the city council of Philadelphia to approve two ordinances. One ordinance will allow EarthLink, which won the contract back in October, to deploy wireless transmitters and receivers on city streetlights. The other ordinance is a management agreement between the city and Wireless Philadelphia, the nonprofit organization established to oversee the wireless project.

"We will work closely with City Council as they consider these ordinances necessary to make this exciting program a reality," John F. Street, mayor of Philadelphia, said in a statement. "Building a wireless network is another major step forward for our world-class city. It's tremendous news for Philadelphia."

Pending approval from the city council, EarthLink will begin installing the wireless equipment right away. Initially, it will set up a small 13-square-mile pilot network. But eventually, it will deploy wireless equipment on approximately 4,000 streetlamp poles, covering 135 square miles of the city with Wi-Fi. EarthLink will pay the city a fee for access to the streetlights.

Also as part of the deal with the city, EarthLink will provide free hot spots in 22 locations around Philadelphia, and provide the city with 3,000 free or discounted Wi-Fi accounts and 700 discounted T-1 accounts to be used at the city's discretion.

Wireless Philadelphia will receive about 5 percent of the access revenue that EarthLink generates from the service. The group will use this money along with other monies raised to invest in educational and social programs to help Philadelphia citizens.

The city also plans to use about $2 million received from EarthLink for the rights of way to the streetlamps to help implement initiatives designed to bridge the digital divide, including the purchase of about 10,000 discounted computers for low-income residents and training programs.