The city of Philadelphia is steamrolling ahead toward its goal of becoming the nation’s first completely wireless major city. In May, Mayor John F. Street announced the approval of a 15-square-mile test zone for the city’s fledgling Muni Wi-Fi network. Consumers in the test area were allowed to start signing up for Internet access accounts shortly after the announcement was made.

The test zone is part of an ambitious program intended to make Philadelphia a pioneer in the realm of municipal Wi-Fi. Eventually, the network will be deployed citywide, covering a 135-square-mile area. Wireless Philadelphia is the nonprofit organization created to help the city reach its goal, in partnership with EarthLink, which is building and managing the network.

The effort also has as one of its goals providing low-cost Internet access to low-income families. The so-called “Digital Inclusion” program includes 25,000 discounted access accounts donated by EarthLink, which will be offered at less than one-half the normal retail rate. Free Internet access will also be offered in parks and other public spaces.

The entire network is expected to be completed before the end of the year at which time more than 12,000 paying customers are expected to sign up for access. EC