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City of Brotherly Love may embrace Wi-Fi

Philadelphia may spread the joy of wireless Internet access to its citizens.

Philadelphia is the latest metro area to look into offering wireless hot-spot service.

Dianah Neff, the city's chief information officer, held a last-minute press conference on Wednesday, at which she said she is accepting proposals from companies interested in setting up Wi-Fi equipment in Philadelphia. The project would make Internet service available to people with computers equipped to use the Wi-Fi standard for wireless Internet connectivity.

Neff expects to have recommendations for the city's mayor, John Street, by the end of the year. A committee has been appointed to examine the consequences and benefits of a citywide wireless network. The plan calls for the city to decide whether to move forward with a program by February and have a service up a year after the decision is made.

"This would be part of the mayor's efforts to further develop the city," Neff said. "About 200 communities across the United States are looking to use this technology. We would be the first major city to start the planning from a citywide perspective."

Cities, such as New York and Cerritos, Calif., have been testing and installing equipment to allow government agencies to wirelessly connect to networks to improve urban management. A start-up, HotSpot Amsterdam, launched a wireless network in Amsterdam earlier this week.

Wireless networks have been popping up in isolated areas, such as airports, train stations and coffee shops, throughout cities. Efforts such as Philadelphia's would make service available throughout its cities.

Neff is looking to have Wi-Fi equipment set up on light poles and mentioned the use of open-source software to keep down the costs for installing and using the technology and service. Neff estimates costs to be around $10 million to set up networks and about $1.5 million a year to support and maintain. The service would only be made available if it proved to be cost neutral, she added. She didn't elaborate on any plans for recouping the costs of such a network.

Also on Wednesday, SBC Communications and Michigan announced wireless Internet access in the campgrounds of two state parks, Holland State Park and Grand Haven State. SBC's FreedomLink Wi-Fi service is now available and will be in eight other states parks, docks, rest areas and welcome centers as part of a Michigan and SBC project, called MiWiFi.