In 2006, the city of Philadephia teamed up with EarthLink to attempt to offer it’s residents an affordable fee-based city-wide Wi-Fi connection. The result: FAIL.

Since EarthLink backed out, a new deal is in the works that will give Philly people something cheaper than cheap – free.

That’s right, an investor group comprised of former mayoral candidate Tom Knox, tech entrepreneur Richard Rasansky, and a Philly private equity firm are working on providing a completely free, ad-supported Wi-Fi connection for residents and consumers. Businesses and institutions will be have to pay a fee, however. But for all those consumers this plan is light-years better than the $20 a month fee the EarthLink plan would have charged them.

According to the report in the Wall Street Journal, the numbers weren’t in EarthLink’s favor:

Philadelphia’s city-wide Wi-Fi venture was the largest municipal wireless service to be launched when the city began working with EarthLink in 2006. But it suffered from low usage, drawing only about 5,000 customers in May, when the Atlanta company said it was backing out. EarthLink had previously expected to attract more than 100,000 subscribers.

So kudos to this new investor group that took the initiative to run with a good idea. Conversely, a loud and boisterous ‘boo’ to EarthLink for getting everyone’s hopes up and then proceeding to suck big time.

Pretty soon you’ll be able to read this great post about Philly’s $100 Cheesteak using your laptop’s wireless connection while enjoying said cheesesteak at Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. Imagine all the money you’ll save on wireless. Money that could be going to a ridiculously overpriced cheese-topped steak sandwich of some sort, perhaps?

Why aren’t other cities hopping on this ad-supported free wi-fi network? Hopefully the Philly project will be a success and spawn other projects. With true free wi-fi, traveling to cities and using free Skype phone services could be a great feasible option.

Philadelphia Wireless: Map of Area

WSJ: Investor Group Takes Over Philly Wi-Fi Project, June 17, 2008