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March 03, 2006

Metro WiFi Pioneer Philadelphia Signs Contract With EarthLink

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Senior Editor

There is a growing trend of cities creating WiFi “hotspots” encompassing entire metropolitan areas. David Sims recently reported on Cleveland’s plan to install city-wide WiFi, and the general trend of free access in metro areas.
An Associated Press report said that Chicago and San Francisco recently announced similar plans.
The trend was started by Philadelphia, which last April unveiled its business plan—and issued RFPs—to install a citywide WiFi network.
Those plans entered the fruition stage Wednesday, with Philadelphia’s mayor, John Street, announcing that the city had signed four agreements with EarthLink, and nonprofit group Wireless Philadelphia, to provide wireless Internet service in every one of the city’s neighborhoods.
According to a press release on the city’s website, EarthLink will “will build, manage and maintain a wireless network over the City’s 135 square miles at no cost to taxpayers.” Transmittal devices will be installed on about 4,000 street lamp poles.
EarthLink also will “provide City residents and visitors with free hotspots in 22 locations around Philadelphia, and provide the City with 3,000 free or discounted WiFi accounts and 700 discounted T-1 accounts to be used at the City’s option.”
Once the plan is complete, Philadelphia will become the nation’s largest WiFi hotspot, the press release said.
 “I’m proud of all the hard work Wireless Philadelphia and our Administration did to achieve these agreements, which will provide a true benefit to our citizens - at no cost to them,” Mayor Street said in the release.
According to an Associated Press report, EarthLink will rent space on the city’s light posts at a rate of $74 annually per post—adding up to almost $300,000 a year. Five percent of the money EarthLink makes from accounts in the city will be donated to Wireless Philadelphia, a nonprofit group that has been charged with implementing the WiFi plan.
Wireless Philadelphia will “use the revenues it receives from EarthLink (5 percent of access revenue) and other monies raised to invest in educational and social programs to help Philadelphia citizens,” the city’s release said.
Of those revenues, $2 million have been earmarked for programs to help bridge the digital divide—including the purchase of 10,000 discounted computers for low-income residents, and training programs to help those citizens learn to use the technology.
All of this may come tax-free, but residents won’t have access to the WiFi network free of charge. Depending on income levels, Philadelphians can expect to pay $9.95 or more per month for wireless Internet access.
The metro WiFi trend was picked up earlier this year by Intel, which released a list of the “100 Most Unwired” cities in the U.S.
Philadelphia ranked number fifty on the list which, because of overlapping and “tied” metro areas, includes more than 110 municipalities in 40 states.
Topping the list with the largest number of metro areas cited is California, followed with a slight lag by Florida (8 metro areas), Ohio (7 metro areas), and Texas (6 metro areas).
On the lowest end of the spectrum,  the following states each only got one metro area on the list: Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington D.C., Wisconsin.
Metro WiFi networks aren’t just taking hold in the U.S. David Sims also recently reported on London’s WiFi plans, and Cindy Waxer wrote about Canada making Internet access available to commuters who ride the country’s trains.
Mae Kowalke previously wrote for Cleveland Magazine in Ohio and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. To see more of her articles, please visit Mae Kowalke’s columnist page.

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