October 4, 2005 10:49 AM PDT

EarthLink wins Philly Wi-Fi contract

The city of Philadelphia has awarded EarthLink a high-profile contract to build a Wi-Fi network stretching over 135 square miles, marking the formal start of the largest municipal effort in the United States to offer wireless Net access.

Dianah Neff, Philadelphia's chief information officer, said Tuesday that the Atlanta-based Internet provider has won the contract to place Wi-Fi access points on telephone poles throughout the city, beating out a competing proposal from Hewlett-Packard. Most city residents will pay $20 a month for access.

"EarthLink will fund, build and manage the wireless network, and will provide Wireless Philadelphia with revenue-sharing fees to support our nonprofit goals of getting computers into households with training and working with our neighborhoods to do economic development," Neff told CNET News.com.

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While other municipalities have created local wireless networks, Philadelphia is the largest city to date to formalize such a project. Negotiations on some remaining details--such as what percentage of subscriber fees go to the city--are scheduled to take place over the next 60 days, with a final contract signed and construction expected to begin at that time. (On Monday, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced details of his plans for a citywide wireless network.)

The City of Brotherly Love's plans haven't exactly engendered political amity. Philadelphia has faced criticism from local telephone provider Verizon Communications and local cable operator Comcast, as well as charges of another government "boondoggle" from a city council member.

It drew a response in the form of a state law aimed at restricting municipal wireless networks--and even sparked proposed federal legislation that would effectively prohibit state and local governments from providing Internet, telecommunications or cable hookups if a private company offers a "substantially similar service."

Philadelphia's plans differ from those of many other municipalities in one crucial way: EarthLink will own the hardware and take the financial risk associated with providing the service. If it flops, city taxpayers won't lose the money.

Neff said EarthLink will operate what amounts to the Wi-Fi backbone, but multiple Internet service providers will be permitted to sell access. "We're not looking to create another monopoly," she said. "We have that in the telecom and cable fields."

"Initially, we will construct a 15-square-mile proof-of-concept area, and upon completion of the testing phase, Wireless Philadelphia and EarthLink will begin building out the remainder of the city's wireless network," Donald Berryman, executive vice president of EarthLink customer support, said in a statement. Wireless Philadelphia is a nonprofit group created by the city government.

Discounted access to low-income households is expected to be about $10. By having cheaper wireless networks available to workers such as police and building inspectors, the city hopes to save about $2 million a year over the cost of Verizon's EV-DO service, which typically runs about $70 a month.

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Yay! Take that Verizon and Comcast!
Perhaps now you'll actually have to "put up or shut up" and provide the quality of service and customer support that match your ridiculously inflated rates!
(not holding my breath though...)
Posted by zizzybaloobah (218 comments )
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Take that Verizon and comcast
Verizon Broadband is way faster than wi-fi the city is planning and who you think going to pay for this! Tax payers! Yea they say it's not going to cost the tax payers anything but someone have to pay Earthlink to set it up and run it and upgrade it. Plus after tax's it won't be $20 no more(city, state,fed).
Posted by stm24 (108 comments )
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Earthlink brings No-Fi to Philly
Please let me preface my post by stating that I saw Monsoon
Wedding twice before buying the DVD. I love Bollywood and
generally, I can easily understand what the actors are saying.
May I also mention that I can appreciate the desperate need for a
job when you have no other income and the reason why
companies outsource. In all honesty, I would much rather speak
to a courteous person with an accent, than a rude person
speaking my native tongue. That being said, I'll continue with my
experience with Earthlink Wi-Fi in Philadelphia.

------

After a minimal struggle with a customer service person who
was clearly located in India (this might be a good time to
mention that the SALES SUPPORT people speak clear as a bell
compared to the TECH SUPPORT and CUSTOMER SERVICE
personnel), I eventually agreed to sign up for my 30 Day No-
Obligation Free Trial ($19.99 non-refundable shipping fee for an
8 oz. modem). The box with my new modem and intro package
arrived with my incorrectly.spelled.name@earthlink.net login
letter and did not include the pre-paid mailing label I was told
would be provided for use in the event that I chose to cancel my
service and return the modem within said 30 day trial period.

I pulled my DSL modem, and put the Wi-Fi modem inline. I had
no signal at all during 98% of my 4 hour test drive, and a
flickering connection for the other 2%. I never once made it to
the Earthlink log in screen. During this time, I called Technical
Support (also overseas), and got a completely unintelligible
operator. After I had said, "I'm sorry, but I can't understand what
you're saying. May I please speak with someone stateside, or at
least someone who speaks English as their first language?"
about half a dozen times, the guy said, "Look. I will speak very
slowly so that you will understand me, and you will speak very
slowly for me, OK?"

It was far from OK. He represented a company who sold me a
chunk of technology I couldn't use. As their rep, he went on to
ask me to stand near a window and move around looking for a
signal. As a graphic designer who does a lot of large file FTP
action, there was NO WAY I was going to walk around my house
"hoping" for a signal. Then he asked me to look outside for a
pole with a something or other. I just couldn't make out what he
was saying and the guy kept repeating this same word, over and
over, louder and louder, growing ever more impatient WITH ME
as I kept asking him to spell it for me. Just so you know, in India,
the word "Spell" seems to mean "Say it louder and slower to me
with growing exasperation, like I'm an idiot." Eventually he said,
"All right, Miss - in your words 'antenna', OK? Look for a pole
with an antenna!" It seemed the word he repeated in
exasperation wasn't one of "my words" at all. How stupid of me.
Well, I guess you realize by now that I wasn't going on a hunt for
a pole with an antenna, because I'd then be given the mission of
relocating my life facing said pole. With a hard-wired network of
4 computers in what normal people would call a dining room, I
had no intentions of running ethernet cable to a distant modem
facing its Mecca in hopes that it might receive "the best possible
signal" in order to salvage my $19.99 investment.

I decided to default my part of the conversation to repeating "I
need the return authorization label" over and over until he gave
up and transferred me to Customer Service. This time a female
was quickly and happily gargling words at me. She wanted to
confirm every detail of my initial purchase, and after EACH
question, and there were many -- my name....phone
number....address....last 4 digits of credit card used...etc. -- she
would kindly ask me to wait a few minutes while she verified
that information, then come back and ask for the next item.
Finally, I snapped and said, "Look, I've wasted an hour of my life
on the phone with you people about a nonexistent service that I
was sold by Earthlink, the company you represent. Just send a
pre-paid label to the person at this address who ordered this
service on whatever credit card was used! If it's not really me,
and I don't really have a modem to return, what's the big deal???"

She asked me to hold for a few minutes, came back on the line
and said she'd be transferring me to CANCELLATIONS and that I
"may have to hold for a little while so please be patient on the
line."

I hung up.

I had been working with Earthlink's Wi-Fi Installation Guide to
that point, but went on to read through the other literature
about my service. In addition to walking around your house
looking for the sweet spot, some of the troubleshooting tips for
those having problems locating a signal include - relocate your
cordless phone, scanner, cell phone, microwave and anything
that may transmit a signal that might interfere with your wif-fi
reception. "These items do not really need to be located near
your computer." Who knew?

Color me disgruntled. I sincerely hope that Earthlink's
Philadelphia project tanks very quickly and I intend to lobby my
elected officials for some much needed Wi-Fi reform.

Bottom line -- before signing on with Earthlink, make sure have
a nearby "pole with an antenna," a Star Trek Universal Translator
and time and money to burn.
Posted by jukebug (1 comment )
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