Philadelphia Wi-Fi Moves Closer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - May 4, 2006 -- Philadelphia's wireless Internet initiative cleared a critical hurdle on Wednesday, putting the city on track to become the first major metropolitan area with municipal broadband. But full deployment could be delayed a few months until the third quarter of 2007.
The project got the green light from the city's technology and information services and public property and public works committees and is now headed for a vote before City Council. The Council is expected to approve the Wi-Fi initiative as early as next week.
Under a 10-year contract, EarthLink Inc. will build, operate and maintain a wireless Internet network over Philadelphia's 135 square miles. Full deployment was initially expected next spring, but the project spent two months in committee, which wrangled over issues such as the participation of women and minority businesses.
"Under the circumstances, I don't think we could have done it any faster," said Councilman Brian O'Neill, chairman of the technology committee, adding that they've had six hearings since March.
The committees added amendments that gave City Council members more oversight over Wireless Philadelphia, a nonprofit chartered by the city to oversee the Wi-Fi project. Wireless Philadelphia entered into a contract with Atlanta-based EarthLink to provide the high-speed Internet service.
Changes include appointing a diversity oversight committee that would make sure Motorola Inc., which EarthLink hired to build the network, will give at least one-fourth of the business to women, minority and disabled business owners.
Wireless Philadelphia also has to meet regularly with an advisory group that will be made up of members appointed by the City Council, the mayor and other officials.
"I think it will work," O'Neill said. "EarthLink is a great company. ... They are also taking all the financial risk here and they'll make sure it works."
EarthLink will invest $22 million over a decade - $10 million to $12 million alone on equipment - to provide Wi-Fi in the city. It will offer upload and download speeds of 1 megabit per second, slower than some digital subscriber line, or DSL, and cable broadband speeds, but much faster than dial-up. Prices are expected at $20 a month, or $9.95 for low-income households.
EarthLink has agreed to rent spaces on 4,000 city light posts, on which it will place Wi-Fi equipment. Since wireless Internet relies on line of sight, residents who live on the first to third floors will have the service first, said Clifton Roscoe, director of major projects at EarthLink.
He said EarthLink is currently working on a way to send the signal to the higher floors and hopes to have a reliable solution shortly after full deployment.
Derek Pew, interim chief executive of Wireless Philadelphia, said most of the city's residents don't live in high rises. Moreover, people who live in tall buildings tend to be more affluent and might prefer to pay more for higher Internet speeds such as that provided by cable, he added.
About 300 communities nationwide, including Chicago and San Francisco, are crafting or have deployed Wi-Fi plans.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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