San Francisco to study city-owned Wi-Fi

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

San Francisco is going to kick the tires of an alternative to the citywide Wi-Fi plan from EarthLink Inc. and Google Inc.

The budget analyst of the City and County of San Francisco agreed on Monday to study the financial feasibility of a wireless network paid for and owned by the city. The agency expects to finish its report by December, a representative said at a meeting Monday of the Board of Supervisors' Government Audit and Oversight Committee.

The city's Wi-Fi plan and the process of developing it has come under fire from several quarters, not least from some members of the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Jake McGoldrick formally requested the feasibility study after criticizing the way in which the administration of Mayor Gavin Newsom settled on the EarthLink-Google plan. It calls for a network to be built at no cost to the city and owned by the two service providers.

"It really got rammed and jammed and fast-tracked," McGoldrick said in April. If the city owned the network, he believes it would have more control over issues such as user privacy and prompt upgrading of the technology.

The analyst's plan to deliver the report by December satisfied McGoldrick, who talked with representatives of the agency at Monday's meeting.

The city also expects to wrap up its negotiations with EarthLink and Google in early December, said Brian Roberts, a senior policy analyst for the city's Department of Telecommunications and Information Services. The department has no position on the plan for the feasibility study, he said: The budget analyst's report will give the supervisors more information to decide whether to go with the EarthLink-Google deal, he said.

Also Monday, a nonprofit organization said a city-owned network would pay for itself in just over four years. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) released the results of a feasibility study report that was sought by Media Alliance, an Oakland, California, group that has pushed for broader access to technology.

ILSR envisioned San Francisco building the network for an initial capital investment of about US$10 million, to be repaid over five years from services revenue. The city would create a nonprofit body to sell access to the network to service providers wholesale. Upgrades would cost about $9 million over ten years, the group said.

The plan is similar to ones advocated in some other cities, such as that of the Boston Wireless Task Force. ILSR said its estimates, which in part assume that 10 percent of households and businesses would become paid subscribers at about $15 per month, were conservative.

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