The firm retained by Philadelphia to build a citywide wireless Internet network has spent millions more than its anticipated costs and cannot say when it will complete the project, City Council members were told today.

In fact, EarthLink Inc. didn't show up for a committee hearing on Wireless Philadelphia. The company's recent announcement that it was retreating from the municipal wireless business prompted the hearing. But EarthLink made it clear by its absence that it did not want to be peppered in public with questions while it rethinks its business strategy.

"While we are sensitive to the city's concern about the future of the project, we are not able to provide complete answers because of confidentiality agreements with other providers that may have an interest in this network and our status as a publicly traded company," the company said in an unsigned statement submitted to the Committee on Technology and Information Services.

EarthLink said it has spent more than $20 million to establish the broadband wireless service, "in excess of the $12 million to 15 million anticipated by the City and EarthLink at the outset of the project."

The network is substantially complete, the company said, but neither EarthLink nor city officials could provide a date for when the system - the most ambitious municipal network in the United States - would be completed.

Greg Goldman, chief executive of the city-created Wireless Philadelphia nonprofit, said that EarthLink had "several thousand" subscribers to the network so far.

In its deal with the city, EarthLink agreed to pay for building the network.

The company also gave $1 million to Wireless Philadelphia to help market discounted and free WiFi service for the poor.

Goldman said the "Digital Inclusion" program has had 613 sign-ups.

Although the network is behind schedule and under-performing, City Solicitor Romulo Diaz said the city was contractually protected if EarthLink wanted to bail out on Philadelphia.

In the meantime, he said, the city would "continue to hold their feet to the fire."

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.