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Just when it seemed there was no hope left for Wireless Philadelphia and its plans for digital inclusion, a group of local investors announced an agreement with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, City Councilman Bill Green and Wireless Philadelphia on Tuesday to take over operations of Philadelphia's Wireless Initiative.

The announcement came just days after the June 12 deadline for finding a new Internet provider for Wireless Philadelphia had passed - a deadline set by Earthlink, who had pulled out of their agreement with the city to operate the Initiative.

"This is an important first step to reducing the digital divide," said Nutter.

The deal provides Philadelphia with the opportunity to become the first major American city to provide free wireless to all of its residents.

One of the primary criticisms about the network to date has been poor service and lack of reliability. Though service will not immediately change, the network will undergo a transitional period, expected to last at least a year, during which the investor group will reassess the state of the network.

"The overall quality of the service should be improved," said Greg Goldman, CEO of Wireless Philadelphia.

The network currently reaches 80 percent of the city, including University City. According to Goldman, it should extend to all city residents by the project's completion date. This does not include Philadelphia suburbs.

Investors will fund the free network by providing services to large customers such as hospitals and universities and by using an advertising-based revenue model. However, according to Robin Beck, vice president for information systems and computation, Penn has not indicated an interest in changing its wireless infrastructure.

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