Philadelphia will soon be the first city to have the largest wireless Internet network, reaching 1.5 million people and covering 135 square miles. Wireless Philadelphia, or WI-FI, will provide citizens with Internet access anywhere and everywhere. WI-FI, a non-profit organization, will work with EarthLink to build the wireless network.
Love Park, Ben Franklin Parkway, West Philadelphia, Olney Street and the South Street district will be some of the first wireless areas in the city. Customers will have the option of either paying per minute, by the month or if eligible, gain access for free.
EarthLink and other interested private foundations are funding the project. Individuals backing the WI-FI project hope to bridge the digital divide, create more business opportunities, advance tourism and help those that are less fortunate in Philadelphia.
People involved with the project, including interim CEOs Derek Pew, Dr. Munir Mandviwalla and Laura Forlano, recently participated in a panel discussion about the project at the “Wireless Day” event held in Tuttleman Learning Center on Tuesday, February 28th.
Mandviwalla, a professor at the Fox School of Business, is in favor of the project.
“I think this [referring to Wireless Philadelphia] has potential for dramatic change to consumer access, communication and entertainment opportunities for entrepreneurs to create new businesses,” Mandviwalla said.
Panelists agreed that the project will encourage residents to learn about creating Web sites, web casting and downloading video content. Wireless Internet will enable residents to communicate and get their entertainment and information through one source.
About 40 percent of Philadelphia citizens do not have Internet access. Of the residents who do have Internet, 40 percent have dial-up services and 20 percent have access better than dial-up. WI-FI plans to focus on helping those without Internet gain easy and affordable access.
“I think that if Philly goes to WI-FI that it will enable many people who don’t have Internet knowledge to better themselves and this will also help communities within Philly to be more connected,” said Courtney Love, a freshman majoring in communications.
Ph.D. student and professor Gwen Shaffer had a change of opinion after learning more about the project.
“At first I was a little cynical, I wondered if the city needed to be involved. After sitting in, I’m enthusiastic,” Shaffer said. “Today I learned for the first time that Earthlink is going to be the main service provider [and] not city government.”
Journalism professor Dr. Susan Jacobson believes that WI-FI will help journalists.
“Now when journalists want to report live, a citywide wireless network would enable live reporting and more participation,” Jacobson said.
Sophomore communications major Ashley Mabrey appreciates the positive intentions of WI-FI.
“I think it’s a good idea and it sounds really good. I’m happy that they are doing it for a greater cause and not just doing it to get people to get Internet access,” Mabrey said.
There is still reason to doubt the project, said second year Ph.D. student and teaching assistant Ling Ling Pan.
“I think that it’s a great project but I think there are some problems that need to be solved like computer literacy for the disadvantaged groups,” Pan said. “I believe perhaps not all the users trust the security of the wireless system.”
Trish Fleurimond can be reached at email@example.com.