Philadelphia Launches Wi-Fi Access Test Zone - InformationWeek

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Philadelphia Launches Wi-Fi Access Test Zone

Wireless Philadelphia and EarthLink are about to turn on the first portion of a planned 135-square-mile network, which is slated to be completed in the third quarter.

Many major cities rolling out Wi-Fi service have seen their projects slowed by various unexpected obstacles, but Wi-Fi pioneer city Philadelphia has approved a 15-square-mile Wi-Fi test zone.

Announced Thursday by Mayor John F. Street, the plan calls for Wireless Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization, and EarthLink, which is building and managing the planned 135-square-mile network, to complete the entire project in the third quarter.

"Philadelphia is one of the lowest cities in the U.S. in Internet penetration," said Greg Goldman, CEO of Wireless Philadelphia, in an interview. "Now we hope to leapfrog ahead." Wireless Philadelphia's Digital Inclusion program is an ambitious plan to bring Internet access to low-income families.

Noting that EarthLink is donating 25,000 accounts to the Digital Inclusion program at less then one-half the normal retail rate, Goldman said the effort also would enable users to access the network via broadband mobile technology. "The Wireless Philadelphia initiative has something to offer for all Philadelphians," he said, "with free Internet access in parks and public spaces throughout the city and affordable access everywhere."

While EarthLink has decelerated its Wi-Fi municipal effort as some cities have pulled back on their Wi-Fi plans, the company has stayed the course on the Philadelphia program, even as it had its ups and downs.

"Wireless Philadelphia's approval of the [proof of concept plan] proves the technology and enhances our commitment to building a state-of-the-art wireless network not only in Philadelphia, but in many other cities across the country," said Donald Berryman, president of EarthLink Municipal Networks, in a statement. "We are working quickly to deploy the remaining 120 square miles."

About 5,000 paying customers are expected to sign up by July and 12,000 by the end of the year. Consumers in the 15-square-mile test area can sign up beginning Thursday.

Retail customers can receive a $6.95-a-month promotional rate for six months to be followed by a $19.95 rate for download and upload speeds up to 1 Mbps. Higher speeds are available at slightly higher rates. Digital Inclusion participants will be offered the service at a discounted rate of $9.95 a month before any promotions.

Free access will be offered to city residents and visitors in several designated access areas throughout the city. Philadelphia attempted to jump on the Wi-Fi bandwagon in the early stages of the Wi-Fi boom. The city has weathered various obstacles in recent months.

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