Wireless Philadelphia was an effort to create a citywide network of low-cost WiFi hotspots to create the first municipal internet utility offering in a big city. The effort never fully materialized.
In April 2005, then-Mayor John F. Street formally announced the program’s launch, heralded by national media and futurists the world over. By selling commercially and partnering with the city, EarthLink would equip Philadelphia with a series of wireless hot zones. The Wireless Philadelphia oversight nonprofit would give out cheap accounts to low-income families, hoping to bridge the digital divide. Tourists and other residents could also purchase accounts by the day. Philadelphia would be the first city in the country to be completely wireless, and that would happen by 2006 at no municipal expense, the Street administration boasted.
By July of that year the completion date was pushed to the middle of 2007, then to November 2007, then the first quarter of 2008. In December 2007, with Street on the way out and the new Nutter administration coming in, rumors began to surface that EarthLink wanted out of its contract. By May 2008, it was, taking its abandoned 10-year contract to the courts. The next month, a new company, Network Acquisition, manned by a group of local IT consultants, bought out EarthLink’s $16.8 million in equipment, but any hopes of salvaging the dream were crushed by promises never realized.
In 2007, the New America Foundation published an informative review of the project that can be found online here or downloaded as a PDF here.