Google, Earthlink & SF MuniFi Hang on 11


The negotiation between the city of San Francisco and Earthlink over MuniFi concluded recently, and now the deal’s ultimate fate hangs with getting approval from the Board of Supervisors. We actually had no idea how iffy getting that approval might be until Earthlink’s Don Berryman said at a wireless meeting on Tuesday that out of the 11 Board of Supervisors, “4 or 5 are for the plan, 3 are against the plan, and 3 or 4 are on the table.” Who wants to create an SF MuniFi Supervisor dart board for our office?

The Earthlink/Google crew is concerned enough that they are starting an education (read PR) campaign on Wednesday, and the Mayor, Google’s Chris Sacca and Berryman are planning on visiting the editorial boards of the city’s newspapers and then one-on-one meetings with Supervisors after that. Maybe those 800 local Google jobs will come in handy somewhere — or even building the first few square miles of the network in an on-the-fence Supervisor’s district might help, joked Berryman.

If they don’t get approval the city goes back to the drawing board, which to some might be a good thing, but to the city officials and the companies involved, a huge waste of time and money. Ah, the politics of San Francisco, makes Washington D.C. look almost quaint.


Bruce Wolfe

Folks, there are many facets of this that must be looked at simultaneously.

This is not all conjecture or theory nor rocket science. This is age-old technology that is being used today in other cities and countries whom have no hesitation in creating a vision and providing the best possible connectivity for its citizens. In fact, it is a long time coming.

1) The original intent of the plan, is it still in play? The focus has turned more to the implementation and not curing digital inclusion. Knowing that coverage will be spotty at best before it is deployed then telling poor folks that if they cannot get reception they will need to spend nearly $200 and subscribe to the premium service is not creating more digital inclusion, it’s widening the digital divide.

2) There was no effort to provide the best possible system as the Budget Analyst points out. The City owns over 35 miles of 220 pairs of fiber strands that was installed when City College needed to connect all their campuses together. For the most part it was paid for by the college’s bonds of 2001 that we all voted for.

3) Not using and/or giving up city assets. Why not use city assets first and then build on that. We have this great opportunity to create a vision for the near future using our fiber network. We all know that WiFi is not the future and any future there is for it is not based on current technology as it changes quarterly. In fact, wireless companies like Tropos are finding it very, very hard to stay in the municipal WiFi business lacking enough clients. It is a huge task.

The City on the other hand can commandeer its own fiber network and create a non-profit consortium of tech professionals and firms to turn the lights on the fiber, manage the network, maintain it, create a fiscal structure for it and deploy it. It can also create a lease program for access by high-bandwidth web companies that want a local presence.

4) Creates and increase business development. If the city owns and creates its own backhaul, it can offer bandwidth at far cheaper rates since the city is not in the business of making a profit. This is totally a great public service and increases the ability for the little companies to compete equally having the ability to offset their other costs with cheaper bandwidth. By offering low-cost bandwidth to all businesses who need high-bandwidth and local presence creates a revenue stream that will support the operations of the network including customer service and financing digital inclusion. This way venture capitalists can see their investments go towards more R&D rather than overhead. I think that is attractive for anyone in business that a city would provide this level of business & community development.

5) Hybrid system. Of course, we need WiFi. It is essential to our lives yesterday, today and tomorrow for all kinds of things from laptops in cafes to PDA’s at bus stops to GPS navigation for tourists. It has already been a part of regular life for SF’cans. But trying to push huge bandwidth over the city by WIFi is ludicrous and the technologists know it. Google staff have told me personally at conferences that trying to provide full municipal Internet access is like setting up walkie-talkies. it wasn’t meant for that purpose but people got into the business and had to proliferate it in order to stay in business. WiFi is a short distance solution that was meant for line-of-sight use at best as in an office or home setting. Yes, it can have a reach farther but more hardware to mitigate terrain and structures is needed much like having to using HAM radios to solve the distance issue of walkie-talkies. It gets expensive and elaborate.

THE SOLUTION: One solution is a hybrid system that starts with the connection to the WWW backbone which is a fiber network (see Web 2.0). Extending that kind of connectivity and bandwidth to the premises or home is still a task as the fiber strands need to be strung or pulled in the streets and then across the sidewalks to the buildings. While that is feasible for the near future as SF begins its digging up the sewer system and continued undergrounding of power lines, it cannot be provided today withthe costs of fiber hardware at the end of the strand still not cost effective. But, it will be in the next year or so.

In the meantime, let’s look seriously at something that will last to the next generation of technology. Fiber has been in existence for 20+ years. We have it here in the city now. Let’s use this network and ‘spider’ it out to the neighborhoods using WiFi. This way all that data would be pushed through the fiber network as a backhaul with much higher speeds, manageable load balancing and ultimate stability.

6) Increasing business opportunities, leveling the playing field and creating competition. We can promote more business opportunities and competition by contracting WiFi deployments all over the city connected to our fiber network. Some companies do better in difficult reception situations than others, other companies use different equipment, etc. We could then as fiber rolls out to the home reduce the dependence on WiFi and leave some or all of the wireless network intact for more line-of-sight use instead of inside the building use as fiber would take hold.

7) Creating new sole-provider franchises. We have to stop this trend of giving away the city to single huge companies that create agreements that short-change the city. We have seen that with all our utilities. This is something that is inexpensive comparatively to the other utilities, easier to maintain and offers enourmous benefits to every SF’can.

This is not all conjecture or theory nor rocket science. This is age-old technology that is being used today in other cities and countries whom have no hesitation in creating a vision and providing the best possible connectivity for its citizens. In fact, it is a long time coming.

Let’s think about being that trailblazer, that future-thinking, that technology center of the world with the best we can create with what we already have.

Don’t short-cheat yourselves by settling for less when you can have more.

Kimo Crossman

EarthLink’s WIFI Business Case must change…

With the news that AT&T will be offering 768k/384k DSL for $10 a month if you already have bundled phone service or $20 if you don’t have a phone line currently:

For people who already have a bundled phone service they are looking at getting a much more reliable wired connection for 75% of the premium wifi ‘Best Effort’ Average 1000k speed for HALF the COST.

For people who don’t already have phone service and which is bundled, they are looking at getting a much more reliable wired connection for 75% of the premium wifi ‘Best Effort’ Average 1000k speed for the SAME COST.

BUT the DSL wired connection can also support local WiFi with a $50 device and conceivably if you live near two neighbors you could share the wifi and split the monthly cost by two (as well as share it with multiple computers in your place) so your actual monthly cost could be 1/3 the monthly cost in both scenarios above – or possibly upgrade to a higher shared speed.

And if people go with the DSL who already have a phone bill, then they get one less bill a month.

Lastly, a wired connection uses the phone service electrical grid which often lasts in a general electrical blackout, so if you have your equipment plugged into a Uninterruptible Power Supply (a battery) you will still be up (this actually happened to me, my computer was on but the lights were out). It’s useful if you want to find out what the heck just happened or to send a mass email letting people know you are ok etc. – Kimo

Jackson West

Actually, there are a whole lot of reasons this is a bad idea. Most glaringly it gives an exclusive contract to Earthlink for nearly 16 years, in which time the current specs of the plan (300kbps free/1000 pay) will be laughable. It also is severly lax in its requirements to serve every neighborhood and home in The City.

My hunch on how the votes might fall: Ammiano, McGoldrick, Daly, Mirkarimi, and Sandoval against; Maxwell, Jew, Dufty, Alioto-Pier and Elsbernd for; that makes board president Aaron Peskin (my district rep) the swing. Though it would be a travesty if Maxwell voted for, since I’ll bet dollars to donuts her district gets the worst service.

Matt G

I would love to know which supervisors are against or on-the-fence about this proposal and their reasoning. I haven’t seen a rational case for anyone to be against this plan, so either the supes are seeing something I’m not, they’re irrational, or they’re in Comcast/AT&T’s pockets.

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