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City picks EarthLink for wireless Internet network

Mayor Rick Baker said he hopes the 60-square-mile system is up and running within a year.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published February 16, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - The City Council on Thursday sided with Mayor Rick Baker and selected an Atlanta company to provide a citywide 60-square-mile wireless Internet network.

The council voted 7-1 to accept the proposal from EarthLink, which currently has similar wireless contracts in New Orleans, Philadelphia and Anaheim, Calif., among other places.

Only council member Jeff Danner voted against the deal, saying he preferred local company City Wi-Fi.

That company lobbied city leaders heavily this week to reconsider.

City officials preferred EarthLink, saying it has more experience, more financial stability and a better product.

The company also has agreed to open a regional headquarters in the city, Baker said Thursday.

Baker said he would prefer a local company if all things were equal. But, he said, "I don't think this one is a close call."

A final contract must still be signed. But according to the preliminary agreement, here's how the system would work:

- City residents could choose to subscribe to the Internet system for about $21.95 a month and have access to the Internet from almost any computer within the city limits.

- Users also would have Internet access in other EarthLink cities.

- Certain government Web sites would be free to nonsubscribers, and up to 20 selected sites would provide free access to everyone.

Of the state's 10 largest cities, St. Petersburg will be the first to have a citywide wireless network, city officials said.

EarthLink, not the city, would pay for the construction of the $6.8-million network.

EarthLink said it would take six months to build the system, which Baker said he hopes is operational within a year.

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In other news, the council approved a controversial office, residential and retail development at 9th Avenue and 66th Street N.

Neighbors surrounding the vacant lot had opposed the development proposed by the Sembler Co., saying it was inconsistent with the city's comprehensive plan.

Residents said Thursday they will now take their fight to court.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or 727 892-2273.