Here’s Where to Get Free Wi-Fi in Philly
Remember when we were supposed to be the first place in the country to offer a citywide wi-fi network? Yeah, well …
I was recently sitting in my car in a parking spot next to Washington Square and found myself with the need to send some large files to a colleague. Naturally, I didn’t want to use my precious cell-phone data allotment to do this, especially since I now have two kids sharing said data. (Ugh). So I went in search of a free Philly wi-fi network I could use. Alas, there seemed to be no open wi-fi networks to which I could readily attach.
There were Xfinity hot spots in my vicinity, but I’m not a Comcast customer, and those hot spots are, generally speaking, for people who pay Comcast lots of money each month for home or business service. Eventually, I was able to attach to an Xfinity hot spot using a special free (but very limited) pass the company offers that I hadn’t previously known about (more on that later). My colleague got his files. Problem solved.
But this all reminded me of one of Philly’s biggest failed plans of the prior decade: Wireless Philadelphia.
If you’re a newcomer to Philadelphia or were playing with the then-brand-new Nintendo DS with your middle-school friends back in 2005, you may not know about Wireless Philadelphia. So please allow me to give you the basics.
In April 2005, then-mayor John Street officially proclaimed that Philadelphia would soon offer the country’s first true municipal wi-fi network, which would allow Philadelphians to connect to the internet wherever they were. Wireless Philadelphia wasn’t going to be free — that would have been a truly crazy idea in those days — but it would be very cheap, and with full coverage for the entire city. Plus, it supposedly wouldn’t cost taxpayers a cent.
“It will brand Philadelphia as a ‘hot’ city,” Street boasted.
This was big news. Keep in mind that this was the mid-2000s, when we weren’t nearly as “connected” as we are these days. The announcement generated headlines all over the country.
Wireless Philadelphia was to debut in 2006. It didn’t. The timeline was pushed back. And then it was pushed back again. And then the plan absolutely collapsed. A big old womp-womp for Philadelphia.
Okay, so that was then. This is now. And I wanted to know: How can residents and tourists alike find, not just wi-fi, but free wi-fi in Philadelphia in 2020?
The Xfinity On Demand Pass
As I mentioned, I managed to get online that day near Washington Square thanks to an Xfinity wi-fi hot-spot pass that Comcast offers to anybody at all. Comcast calls it the Xfinity Wi-Fi On Demand Pass, and I didn’t know it existed, nor did a few colleagues that I mentioned it to.
Here’s how it works.
If you try to attach to an Xfinity hot spot in Philadelphia and you’re not currently a Comcast customer, Comcast will offer you the option to buy a pass that will allow you to connect for a variety of durations. Maybe you want a one-day pass. Maybe you want a month-long pass. But there is an option for a free pass.
You only get free wi-fi access in Philadelphia for one hour per month with that pass, and that’s 60 consecutive minutes. So it’s not like you can use 10 minutes today, 10 minutes next week, and the balance throughout the rest of the month. Still, it’s something.
Frankly, given that Philly is home base for Comcast, the limitations on this free pass are seriously disappointing. But it was what I needed as I was sitting in my car. It did what I needed it to do.
And there is certainly no shortage of Xfinity hot spots in Philadelphia. Here’s a look at the coverage map:
If you’re wondering where all those hot spots are located, physically speaking, the answer might surprise you. Do you have Comcast service in your home or small business? If so, you’re automatically providing your neighborhood with a hot spot unless you opt out. (Note that the hotspots shown on the map do not include residential hotspots).
A Comcast spokesperson emphasized to me that this hot spot is separate from your network—in other words, somebody jumping on your hot spot can’t read your emails. Well, at least we hope not.
100 Percent Free Hot Spots in Philadelphia
Obviously, there are individual businesses — hotels, cafes, spas, whatever — where you can get free wi-fi in Philadelphia. You probably already have your favorites in this category. Some more prominent spots that offer free wi-fi in Philadelphia:
Mann Center for the Performing Arts
Philadelphia International Airport
Science Center in University City
Reading Terminal Market
Citizens Bank Park
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Wells Fargo Center
All Wawa stores
Cherry Street Pier
Race Street Pier
Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing
Blue Cross RiverRink
Spruce Street Harbor Park
Approximately 150 SEPTA stations (including all the major hubs) offer free wi-fi, and some PATCO stations do as well.
Free Wi-Fi on SEPTA Buses
Speaking of SEPTA, you can’t get free wi-fi (or any wi-fi) if you’re riding the Regional Rail trains, the trolleys, the Broad Street Line, or the Market-Frankford Line.
Some SEPTA buses, on the other hand, do have free wi-fi.
There are 1,400 or so SEPTA buses on the road, and about 340 of them offer free wi-fi.
According to SEPTA, some 6,000 bus passengers use free wi-fi on an average workday, with an average usage of 28 megabytes per client, per session.
I found mixed results when I sent some testers onto buses last November, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Comcast Internet Essentials
Okay, so this isn’t about specific locations for free wi-fi in Philadelphia, but it’s an important part of the equation. I did some very unscientific research and found that there are Philadelphia residents who don’t realize they’re eligible for Comcast’s Internet Essentials package, which offers high-speed residential internet access to qualifying residents for about $10 a month. There are none of those pesky activation fees or equipment rental charges. Participants can buy a computer through the program for $150. And Internet Essentials gives users 40 hours per month of free wi-fi access at any Xfinity hot spot in Philadelphia.
When Comcast first launched Internet Essentials, only families with a child who qualified for the National School Lunch Program could participate. But these days, there are many more entry points for low-income households. You can take a look at the full list of qualifications here. If you know people who may be eligible for Internet Essentials, I would encourage you to let them know about the program.
Free Philly Wi-Fi at the Library
Every single location of the Free Library of Philadelphia will let you get on wi-fi for free. There’s really only one catch: You need a library card and the PIN that goes with it. It’s dirt-easy to get a library card in Philadelphia, so that helps.
After that, you can use the wi-fi as long as you want … well, unless you want to use the library’s free wi-fi to access “violent and or sexually explicit material,” according to the library’s site. In other words, save PornHub for home. You would anyway, right? RIGHT?
Free Philly Wi-Fi at KeySpot
The city offers free wi-fi at about 50 community centers, park and recreation locations, and neighborhood nonprofits through its KeySpot program, which has been around since 2010. These are the current KeySpots:
You can also takes classes — from résumé-building to computer literacy to social media safety — all for free. And there are computers available at each location.
Free Philly Wi-Fi Via LinkPHL
You may have noticed kiosks like these popping up in Center City:
This is known as LinkPHL, and you can use these kiosks to access free wi-fi in Philadelphia.
The first of these were activated in December 2018. The city said there were plans for about 100 of the LinkPHL kiosks in total. As of right now, there are 15. Here are the addresses of the active LinkPHL kiosks:
1515 Market Street
1650 Market Street
1700 Market Street
1835 Market Street
2000 Market Street
2104 Market Street
99 North 20th Street
1515 JFK Boulevard
51 North 15th Street
1 South Penn Square
1880 JFK Boulevard
1701 Arch Street
1724 Arch Street
2130 Arch Street
5704 North 5th Street
This is probably a good time to mention that some critics have raised privacy concerns about Link kiosks in Philadelphia and other cities, due to the way the gizmos are said to track you and mine your data. But if you’re willing to connect to free wi-fi in Philadelphia in the first place, you’ve probably already accepted the fact that privacy is a thing of the past.