Bamboowifi gets funds to expand WiFi hot spots in N. Liberties

David Platt (left) and James Gregory hatched the idea of creating WiFi hotspots around the city at a gym, where they first met kickboxing.

Philadelphia's wireless venture Bamboowifi is showing some kick.

Cofounders David Platt and James Gregory, who met as Muay Thai kickboxers, have secured a $15,000 grant in SugarHouse Casino community development funds to install six to eight Wifi hot spots on North Third Street in Northern Liberties.

The duo also are talking with officials in Old City about extending the hot spots farther south on Third to Market Street - an area known as N3RD Street, or "nerd street," for its Web development and tech firms.

The Bamboowifi venture is part of a trend of businesses and start-ups seeking a sustaining model to develop WiFi for mobile broadband services.

Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company, has installed more than 10 million WiFi hot spots across the nation, including thousands in Philadelphia.

Mostly, only Xfinity subscribers can access Comcast's WiFi network, though the Philadelphia company provides free WiFi at 60 SEPTA and 13 PATCO stations, Boathouse Row, and other city locations.

The start-up Bamboowifi is making its network available to anyone on North Third in range of its hot spots, in exchange for watching a 20- or 30-second advertisement. The firm has no revenue but expects to sell advertising as it grows.

So far, Bamboowifi's only hot spot has been located around Liberty Lands Park on the 900 block of North Third.

At its busiest times in the last month, the Bamboowifi network at Liberty Lands has had 60 people using it simultaneously, Platt, the venture's CEO, said.

"There has been a lot more usage than we anticipated," he added. The Bamboowifi network provides speeds up to a moderately fast 10 megabytes per second.

Bamboowifi believes that as the network expands along North Third, 300 to 600 users a day could access it.

Platt and Gregory will negotiate with local business owners to install the hot spots on their property.

Platt and Gregory hatched their business plan at a Philadelphia kickboxing gym where they met.

The two had hoped to finance Bamboowifi - Platt's daughter came up with the eco-friendly name - with a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign this year, with a goal of $200,000. But the fund-raiser fell flat.

Platt and Gregory then pivoted with a modest plan for a hot spot at Liberty Lands, which they financed themselves for $2,000. Afterward, they tapped SugarHouse Casino community development funds through the Penn Treaty Special Services District, with the support of the local neighborhood association.

The casino has made $500,000 a year available through the Penn Treaty Special Services District for projects in Northern Liberties, Old Richmond, Fishtown and South Kensington. This year, SugarHouse boosted funds for community projects to $1 million in conjunction with the casino's $164 million expansion.

Rick Angeli, chairman of the district, said, "We worked on this to get it right, and it took a lot of patience on Bamboo's part and on our part."

Platt said the Bamboowifi network between Girard and Spring Garden on Third should be available for use by the spring. An Old City leg could extend the network south on North Third to Market Street. It will take an additional $15,000, Gregory, Bamboowifi's chief marketing officer, said.

bfernandez@phillynews.com

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