Philadelphia’s city council has approved a contract for a citywide Wi-Fi network it hopes will stimulate the economy of the fifth-largest U.S. city and bring broadband Internet access to poor neighborhoods.
The council unanimously approved the deal, under which Internet service provider EarthLink will pay for the network and operate it at no cost to the city, said EarthLink spokesman Jerry Grasso. An employee of the mayor’s office, who asked not to be named, confirmed the plan had been approved.
The contract must still be signed off by the City Solicitor and by Mayor John F. Street, but there are no more major political hurdles to be crossed, Grasso said. Street’s administration kicked off the citywide wireless initiative.
Philadelphia’s wireless plan inflamed a national debate over municipal networks, with established broadband providers criticizing the fairness and the business wisdom of governments getting involved in owning, operating or maintaining broadband systems. That controversy grew after San Francisco sought proposals for its own citywide wireless network and chose a plan by EarthLink and Google that would be partly supported by location-specific advertising. Elected officials in that city are now debating the proposal as the city negotiates a contract with the vendors.
Once Philadelphia’s wireless plan is approved by the mayor, EarthLink will seek permits and hopes to start rolling out the network in mid-June. The full infrastructure would be in place by the third quarter of next year, Grasso said.