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Sonic.Net's SF ComMuniFi Plan

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[qi:045] Update: Dane Jasper of Sonic.Net left a comment saying that this is their own initiative and the equipment is coming from Meraki.

We’re doing this independently, using equipment from Meraki. Meraki and Google have an ad partnership, and any revenues that flow from that will be split with our customers.

Dane says that if the program works well in SF, then it would be expanded to other Bay Area regions where the ISP currently offers the service. (Original post below the fold.)

Despite the best efforts of Earthlink (ENLK), Google (GOOG) and Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco MuniFi project is still stuck in neutral and going nowhere fast. For San Francisco residents, a new option has emerged: a tag team of, a Santa Rosa, CA-based independent ISP and that is using gear from Meraki Networks, a wireless hardware company based in Mountain View, Calif., and is trying to promote an ad-supported MuniFi model. (Its actually more like community wifi, and you can call it ComMuniFi.) today notified its customers via email that they can get a Meraki wireless mesh router at a subsidized cost, which will allow them to connect it to their DSL line. The wireless router will share up to 500 kilobits per second of the bandwidth available on the DSL line.

Network users will see a Google ad bar at the top of the browser. In the future the ad revenues generated by this ad bar will be split between those who choose to opt and place a wireless router on their connection, and will be credited against their broadband bill.

It could be a rather small credit, so don’t get your hopes too high at this stage; this is still experimental and we are still working out many of the details.

This is a good model for Google to imitate in other regions as well. Google’s had to have known all along that their San Francisco grand plan was going to run ran into political trouble. The big question is why didn’t they roll out A similar service with Earthlink, a much larger ISP with many more broadband customers, would have been a better option for all concerned. I have become a fan of this community-based WiFi plan, which doesn’t need a lot of government dollars, and instead bets on citizen’s desire to share. Independent ISPs such as Sonic.Net are more likely to embrace this model.

Meraki backed by Google and Sequoia Capital, is one of the companies which has been championing a more community approach to free wifi. It recently announced plans to expand their experimental Meraki network to all across San Francisco.

Meraki has been selling its wireless 802.11b/g access point and mesh repeater, the Meraki Mini, for $49 and claims its products are already being used by 2,000 networks in 40 countries. The company also lists an outdoor ruggedized version of its Meraki Mini for $99. Meraki’s business is being built off hardware and software based on MIT’s Roofnet project. The Roofnet Project was previously funded by MIT’s Project Oxygen and NTT DoCoMo.

Related News: Our previous Meraki coverage.

26 Responses to “Sonic.Net's SF ComMuniFi Plan”

  1. Well if the government isn’t yet able to implement the free wireless internet thing all over the city of San Francisco, then it seems to me like this is the next best thing. ComMunifi sounds pretty awesome to me. I only wish they’d implement similar features in other major cities.

  2. “It’s one thing to have it driving down the street, but another thing to have it inside buildings.”

    This is one of the cool things about the Meraki platform. If there are coverage issues, end-users can get what basically amounts to a CPE solution, another Meraki Mini which is enrolled in the network, and placed at the front of the building, where it can “see” the outdoors. That’ll repeat the signal in the home or business, and provide an Ethernet jack.


  3. Jesse Kopelman

    If you are a private concern, servicing individual communities makes a lot more sense than trying to cover the whole municipality. This may be a step backwards in the whole desire to address the digital divide, though. The whole reason certain areas have no broadband is because there is still no viable all-commercial business model for them. The take away for politicians is that there is no free lunch. If you think addressing the digital divide is important, you need to be prepared to spend the tax payers money to make it happen.

  4. Dane Jasper with here. A couple points:

    We’re doing this independently, using equipment from Meraki. Meraki and Google have an ad partnership, and any revenues that flow from that will be split with our customers. serves roughly 22,000 retail DSL customers today, most in the Bay Area. If this platform works well in SF, we will likely expand to other areas. Notably, in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, we have existing poletop usage relationships, so broader coverage is possible in those areas.

    To the point about abuse – because we know our customers are hosting a Meraki, and we can determine that the abuse is coming from the WiFi, we can skip bugging the customer at all, and go straight to logs of usage on the WiFi. Blacklisting abusers is possible.


  5. Jeffery

    thanks for bringing up this point. I was trying to install the meraki router today and for now I have decided to make it private. I am going to check with the Meraki folks and get a clear answer from them about this issue.

    Meanwhile, you can throttle the bandwidth down to about 250-500 kilobits per second. enough for VoIP calls and email and browsing, if nothing else.

  6. Reminds me of similar services launched in india in late nineties to offer free internet. Download their browser (which had an ad bar) and u can surf the net for free ( u paid for the dialup costs).

    Again in countries like india which have strict laws for accessing internet from public machines at cyber cafes open wireless is gonna raise quite a few questions.

    Interesting space ubiquitous wifi access wud be quite cool to have. In 10 yrs india has seen all cities covered with mobile networks no reason y we can’t have wifi everywhere in another 10.

  7. It’s not too much if your alternative is to not have connectivity.

    My big concern is the issue of who owns the network. If my neighbors start downloading Bittorrent movies over an open wireless network, do the DMCA takedown notices start coming to me or to This isn’t a hypothetical question, since I already run an open wireless node via and my bonehead neighbors have actually triggered nastygrams for their unsanitary downloading habits.

    The revenue-sharing angle is another one I’d like more detail about, although I understand that part is an unwritten story at this point.