Free outdoor wireless service is now available throughout most of Philadelphia, courtesy of a stunning deal concluded late yesterday that transferred Earthlink's Philadelphia network to a new company created by local investors.

The new company, which has yet to choose a name, will offer free WiFi access to whoever can pick up the old Earthlink signal, which is typically available outdoors or near a doorway or window. The company hopes to lure paying business and institutional subscribers, such as universities and big corporations, by pairing the wireless network with hard-wired high-speed internet access for indoor use. The company may also adopt an advertising revenue model, meaning WiFi users would have to look at ads in order to access the free network.

The deal, which was announced today at a City Hall press conference, cost taxpayers almost nothing, and does not require City Hall to become a paying subscriber of the new company.

"We now have the potential to reach more people with this free network then any other city in the United States of America," Mayor Nutter said at the press conference.

Although the new company's leaders said the wireless signal is accessible as of today, they will take the next few months to assess the system and formally roll out the new service. They expect to improve the system, eventually expanding free WiFi into the 20-30 percent of the city not covered by Earthlink's network.

The company was formed by a small group of investors, including Derek Pew, who will serve as CEO, as well as Mark Rupp, Richard Rasansky and former mayoral candidate Tom Knox.

Contact staff writer Patrick Kerkstra 215-854-2827 or kerkstra@phillynews.com