SF WiFi… & the winner Is…Google

By Jackson West

According to the Associated Press, Google has gotten their way after announcing their intention to provide San Francisco with free wifi last September. Having combined forces with Earthlink after submitting competing proposals in the first round of responses to The City’s Request for Information, they bested a select group of five other companies and partnerships on points [PDF] in front of a secret panel selected by Chris Vein, a mayoral appointee who heads The City’s Department of Telecommunications and Infrastructure (DTIS).

Of course, Google has asserted that Earthlink will simply be a carrier for their ad-subsidized, 300 kilobits per second service. Now the two can enter into contract negotiations directly with Executive Director Vein and the DTIS for a 8-10 year lease to be the sole provider, with Earthlink administering the accounts. While it won’t cost The City a dime from their budget, customers will pay approximately $20 a month for ad-free a megabit per second service, the 90%-plus signal saturation provision probably won’t be satisfied any time soon and the substantial privacy questions still remain unadressed.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was spotted on a flight home from Davos with Larry and Sergei in January of 2005, has spearheaded the TechConnect project since August, trumpeting the business and social impacts of free wireless. The social activists haven’t gotten too far, and we haven’t had any serious opposition from the incumbents in San Francisco. So Earthlink and Google walk away with wireless riches, and perhaps a license to print money in San Francisco.

On a closing note, this is yet another win for Tropos Networks, which seems to have hitched its wagon with a winner, Earthlink. How long before you think Earthlink will spin out its Muni business?

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