The city's ambitious wireless initiative network, targeted for extinction by Earthlink Inc., remains "alive and kicking," despite all signs to the contrary, the head of the nonprofit group created to spread Internet access to the poor said today.
A day after Earthlink announced plans to dismantle the system's physical infrastructure on June 12, Wireless Philadelphia chief executive Greg Goldman said he was still trying to salvage the network and its mission.
"We're still working to identify a partner or partners who will be willing to step in behind Earthlink" as new owners, Goldman said. "I don't think all those options have been exhausted."
Earthlink disagrees, and is seeking permission in federal court to take down its $17 million in hardware. The company requires court approval because of the nature of the partnership involving Earthlink, Wireless Philadelphia and the city.
"The situation today represents the culmination of several months of comprehensive efforts to find a partner acceptable to the City of Philadelphia to take over the network," said Chris Putala, an Earthlink spokesman. Earthlink not only offered the give the network away for free, it also offered an additional $2 million in equipment, and still couldn't find any takers, Putala said.
Wireless Philadelphia was created to bridge the "digital divide" in the city - to get computers to those who need them most and use a new wireless network to provide Internet to low-income families and create large areas of free wireless access.
Earthlink built the network, which is about 75 percent complete, and was to maintain and operate it, making a profit from more than 100,000 paying subscribers, a goal it never accomplished. Wireless Philadelphia serves less than 6,000 subscribers. About 900 of those are low-income "digital inclusion" subscribers with discounted or free accounts - most of whom were provided a computer, modem, training and technical support.
Putala said Earthlink would offer those 900 "digital inclusion" customers free dial-up Earthlink accounts for one year. The remaining 5,000 customers would be offered discounted Earthlink deals on broadband or dial-up, he said.
A complex deal to save the system, involving an Ohio-based nonprofit group, collapsed over the last week. The vision of a citywide wireless network at virtually no cost to the city was launched by former Mayor John F. Street in 2004, and Mayor Nutter has shown little interest in spending tax dollars on the network.