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 among 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 to give the network away for free, but 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 over 100,000 paying subscribers. It never accomplished that goal. Wireless Philadelphia serves fewer than 6,000 subscribers. About 900 of those are low-income "digital inclusion" subscribers with discounted or free accounts - most of whom were provided with a computer, a 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, 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.
Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 215-854-4565 or email@example.com.