Philadelphia Mayor John Street on Thursday signed a bill that aims to turn the City of Brotherly Love into the nation's largest Wi-Fi hotspot.

Under the agreement, EarthLink will build, manage, and maintain a municipal Wi-Fi network covering the city's 135 square miles at no cost to taxpayers. Twenty-two free hotspots will be provided along with 3,000 free or discounted Wi-Fi accounts. The costs of the service will range from $9.95 a month for economically disadvantaged users while Internet Service Providers will be charged a wholesale rate that will allow them to sell access for $20.00 a month or less to retail customers.

"This partnership is an important step in shrinking the digital divide and bringing low-cost, high-speed Internet service to the visitors, businesses, and residents of Philadelphia," said Donald Berryman, executive vice president of EarthLink, at the bill signing.

Wireless Philadelphia, a non-profit organization that aims to strengthen the economy of Philadelphia's neighborhoods by providing free Wi-Fi throughout the city, estimates that EarthLink will spend an estimated $12 million for the citywide network. The agreement between the city and EarthLink lasts for 10 years.

The city granted EarthLink the right to mount wireless communications equipment on 4,000 of the city's 100,000 street light posts for an initial payment of $2 million plus $2.00 per street light per month.

Incorporated by Street in March 2005, Wireless Philadelphia will use the revenues it receives from EarthLink to invest in educational and social programs for Philadelphia residents. Initial plans include buying 10,000 discounted computers for kids and low-income residents to use.

"I'm proud of all the hard work Wireless Philadelphia and our administration has done to bring wireless Internet to our citizens -- at no cost to them," Mayor Street said at the signing. "This is an opportunity we have seized as we continue building on the momentum growing in Philadelphia over the last few years. Creating a citywide wireless network is yet another accomplishment distinguishing our vibrant City as we compete in the global marketplace."

In addition to Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans have also signed agreements with EarthLink to help build citywide networks. The initial coverage area in New Orleans will be 15 square miles.


Correction: The original version of this story misspelled the name of Donald Berryman, the executive vice president of EarthLink.