The test area, known as the "Proof of Concept," stretches from North Philadelphia south to the edge of Chinatown and from the Delaware River to parts of Strawberry Mansion and Hunting Park. Once the network is completed at the end of this month, a group of more than 50 testers from EarthLink and from Phillis' office will fan out with computers to make sure the network, customer service, and other parts of the operation are working.
Testing should take about a month, said Clifton Roscoe, general manager for EarthLink Municipal Networks in Philadelphia.
EarthLink workers have hung about 750 signal boxes in the test area. The entire project will blanket all of Philadelphia's 135 square miles and require up to 5,000 signal boxes. It is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2007.
Customers can expect download and upload speeds of about 1 megabyte per second. That's a fraction of the wired speeds offered by Comcast and Verizon, but it's also a fraction of the cost.
Service will be free in some areas, including LOVE Park and the Independence Visitors Center. Low-income clients can sign up for $9.95 a month, compared to $21.95 for other customers.
A household becomes eligible for the lower rate if it either already receives certain benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or earns no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level.
Under those guidelines, a single person could earn no more than $12,441. A household of eight people could earn no more than $42,107, according to Wireless Philadelphia, the nonprofit working with EarthLink.
Wireless Philadelphia aims to narrow the digital divide, a gap that exists because poor people often can't afford access to the Internet and other technologies.
Wireless Philadelphia is a new organization that just started raising money to help low-income consumers buy computers at reduced cost and then help them sign up for and use the EarthLink service.
"You're talking about people who in most cases will not have any real experience with the Internet. That in itself is a step in closing the digital divide," said Greg Goldman, chief executive officer of Wireless Philadelphia.
His organization is choosing neighborhood outreach and other groups as partners. The first such partner is People For People, a North Philadelphia community-revitalization group.
These partners will help identify candidates for the discount laptops and EarthLink subscription programs. Many of these groups already have identified people eligible for discounts, because they help administer some of the qualifying programs, such as energy assistance.
Goldman said he was seeking "wireless angels" to donate at least $25,000 each to kick off the fund-raising.
Contact staff writer Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520 or firstname.lastname@example.org.