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Philly narrows Wi-Fi equipment choice

Philadelphia has narrowed down to two candidates its choice of vendors to build its citywide Wi-Fi network.

City officials in Philadelphia have whittled down the list of potential suppliers vying for a contract to build its citywide Wi-Fi network.

Wireless Philadelphia, the nonprofit group established to implement the project, has narrowed its choice down to two proposals, one from Hewlett-Packard, the other from EarthLink. A bid from long-distance carrier AT&T is no longer in the running, said city officials.

A final contractor is expected to be named by the middle of September and construction is expected to start in October.

The company that wins the bid will be responsible for designing, deploying and maintaining the network that will provide wireless Internet access using 802.11 Wi-Fi technology across 135 square miles of the city. The project's aim is to provide affordable high-speed Internet access to low-income families. While cable and DSL services are offered in some parts of the city, officials argue that they are too expensive for poorer families.

The project is expected to cost between $15 million and $18 million.

Under its proposal, Hewlett-Packard will use gear from Aptilo Networks, Alvarion, Business Information Group and Tropos Networks. EarthLink is working with Motorola Canopy and Tropos. AT&T's proposal included gear from Lucent Technologies and BelAir Networks.

Philadelphia is among the first major U.S. cities to announce plans to build its own citywide wireless network. The project has faced criticism from local telephone provider Verizon Communications, as well as from the local cable operator, Comcast. Phone companies and cable operators across the country have mounted strong opposition to plans such as Philadelphia's claiming that it allows for a government to compete unfairly for broadband customers.

Despite the phone and cable companies' objections, several other large cities, including New York City and San Francisco, are also considering setting up their own Wi-Fi networks. Earlier this week, San Francisco officials announced they were soliciting proposals from vendors to build its Wi-Fi network.