Philadelphia’s Wi-Fi due by mid-2006

Businesses and residents in Philadelphia will receive broadband speeds at dial-up rates

The nation’s largest municipal Wi-Fi cloud will blanket Philadelphia by the summer of 2006 — with Internet access free in public parks and steeply discounted for low-income residents, the Associated Press reported.

Businesses and other residents will pay more for the service but still get “broadband speeds at dial-up rates,” Dianah Neff, the city’s chief information officer, told the AP in describing the ambitious plan to cover all the city’s 135 square miles with wireless Internet service.

Neff said a public-private partnership of a kind “we haven’t seen before” will run the service, which is expected to break even within four years. Dozens of cities and towns nationwide have either begun or announced similar plans, but Philadelphia’s would be the largest for public use.

“Everybody is watching Philadelphia,” said Frank Hanzlik, managing director of Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry group. “This is something that hasn’t been done before, at least not on this scale.”

Regional and long-distance phone companies that sell broadband Internet to consumers and businesses have lobbied for laws to regulate or bar such municipal competition, but Philadelphia and Verizon Communications, the dominant local phone carrier, struck an agreement last November to allow the city to proceed.

However, under legislation signed by Gov. Ed Rendell, all other municipalities in the state would have to get permission of the local telephone company to provide broadband or any other telecommunications service. If the company rejects the plan, it would have to offer a similar service within 14 months.

Neff said Philadelphia’s service will offer upload and download bandwidth of 1Mb/s. In early March, the city will ask companies to submit proposals to build and run the wireless network, which is expected to cost $10.5 million to erect.

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