EarthLink Dropping Philadelphia's Wireless Network
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City officials in Philadelphia have been promoting a wireless Internet network that was supposed to be a model for the 21st century. Their Wi-Fi network has had problems though from the start. And now EarthLink, the company that built the system, is threatening to shut it down.
Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: Philadelphia officials were full of optimism in the summer of 2004 when they unveiled plans for a wireless network that would help bridge the digital divide between rich and poor. Then Mayor John Street made the announcement in the city's famous Love Park.
Mayor JOHN STREET (Philadelphia): What could be a better symbol of our commitment to technology and our commitment to 21st century thinking than to make the Love Park a wireless Internet access point in the city of Philadelphia?
ROSE: The deal the city eventually signed with EarthLink promised Internet access all over the city for only 20 bucks a month, and even less for low income residents. But almost from the start service was inconsistent, even as the network went way over budget.
Last year, EarthLink decided to get out of the municipal wireless business. According to published reports, EarthLink is now threatening to dismantle a network that isn't even finished unless the city comes up with a plan to run it.
A spokesman for the mayor would not deny that report, but he says there's no firm deadline. EarthLink responded with a written statement saying negotiations are continuing.
Municipal wireless consultant Craig Settle says part of the problem is that EarthLink created unreasonable expectations.
Mr. CRAIG SETTLE (Wireless Consultant): The whole hype machine has been around free Wi-Fi, free wireless, services for the general consumer. That is not the value of these networks.
ROSE: Settle says successful municipal networks are used primarily for city government and public services. He says the Philadelphia network could still be successful if the city and EarthLink can arrive at a better deal for all parties this time.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose in Philadelphia.
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