Philadelphia plans wireless link to Internet for all in city
By David B. Caruso
PHILADELPHIA For about $10 million, city officials believe, all 135 square miles of Philadelphia can be turned into the world's largest wireless Internet hot spot.
Vince Veneziani uses his laptop computer to connect to the Internet in Philadelphia, where city officials want to provide wireless access to the Web for free or at deeply discounted fees.
Once complete, the network would deliver broadband Internet almost anywhere radio waves can travel including poor neighborhoods where high-speed Internet access is now rare.
And Philadelphia would likely offer the service either for free, or at costs far lower than the $35 to $60 a month charged by commercial providers, said the city's chief information officer, Dianah Neff.
"If you're out on your front porch with a laptop, you could dial in, register at no charge, and be able to access a high-speed connection," Neff said. "It's a technology whose time is here."
If the plan becomes a reality, Philadelphia could leap to the forefront of a growing number of cities that have contemplated offering wireless Internet service to residents, workers and guests.
Chaska, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, began offering citywide wireless Internet access this year for $16 a month. The signal covers about 13 square miles.
Corpus Christi, Texas, has been experimenting with a system covering 20 square miles that would be used initially by government employees only.
Over the past year, Cleveland has added some 4,000 wireless transmitters in its University Circle, Midtown and lakefront districts. The free service is available to anyone in the areas.
Some 1,016 people were logged in to the system at 2:20 on a Tuesday afternoon, said Lev Gonick, chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University, which is spearheading the project and paying for part of it.
In New York, city officials are negotiating to sell wireless carriers space on 18,000 lampposts for as much as $21.6 million annually. T-Mobile USA, Nextel Communications, IDT Corp. and three other wireless carriers want the equipment to increase their networks' capacity.
One part of the 15-year deal is cheap Wi-Fi phones for neighborhoods where less than 95 percent of residents have home phones. IDT, which has agreed to market the cheaper phone service in those neighborhoods, would pay lower rates for poles there than other companies would in wealthier areas.
Wireless technology has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years and become drastically less expensive.
Neff estimated it would cost $10 million to pay for the initial infrastructure for the system, plus $1.5 million a year to maintain.
Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street, a technology buff who carries a wireless hand-held computer everywhere he goes, has appointed a 14-member committee to work out the specifics of his city's plan.