April 6, 2006 8:07 AM PDT

EarthLink and Google win San Francisco Wi-Fi bid

San Francisco on Wednesday selected a joint bid by EarthLink and Google to provide San Francisco with a wireless network.

Under the joint proposal, which the two companies submitted to the city in February, free and paid wireless service would be available throughout the city.

Chris Vein, executive director of the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services for San Francisco, said on Thursday he expected that negotiations with Google and EarthLink would go smoothly and that work on building out the network could begin this year and be completed within a few months.

In response to a report that came out on Thursday from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center that concluded the Google-EarthLink bid was among the worst on protecting user privacy, Vein said he had not read it.

Privacy was one of the issues considered by San Francisco TechConnect, the committee that selected the EarthLink proposal, Vein said, adding that the panel "felt comfortable enough with the total package of the deal that we should negotiate with EarthLink and Google on issues like privacy and security going forward."

In response to concerns that the wireless network would not penetrate inside buildings adequately enough to be considered true "universal" coverage for city residents, Vein said that issue too would be discussed with Google and EarthLink. "As we negotiate the deal we will push for universal affordable access...as close as we can to" reaching throughout every building, he said.

Google and EarthLink said they were happy to have been the winning bidders.

"We are thrilled that the city of San Francisco has accepted our joint bid with EarthLink to provide Wi-Fi access citywide," Google said in a statement released Thursday. "We look forward to continuing the planning process with the city and EarthLink and are eager to provide free Wi-Fi to the residents of San Francisco."

In a blog, EarthLink Executive Vice President Donald Berryman wrote, "San Francisco is one of the most progressive cities in the world, and our combined offerings with Google, Motorola and Tropos Networks will stretch the possibilities of what a mobile network can do for residents, businesses, municipal government and visitors."

Although EarthLink and Google outbid an initial five competing bids, the contract must still be signed off by the city of San Francisco and reviewed by the Board of Supervisors.

San Francisco residents, as a result, won't likely see the free Wi-Fi service for another six to eight months, an EarthLink representative said.

Google will manage the free 300-kilobits-per-second Wi-Fi service, while EarthLink will offer the faster premium service of 1mbps for up to $20 a month.

San Francisco will mark the fourth municipal Wi-Fi deal for EarthLink. It currently operates Wi-Fi networks in Philadelphia, as well as in California cities Anaheim and Milpitas. Google is providing Wi-Fi access in the city of Mountain View, Calif.

CNET News.com's Elinor Mills contributed to this report.

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9 comments

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300 kbps...is it really broadband speed?
Internet users in Japan, South Korea will be laughing at our Internet speed ...imho
Posted by 200mbpsBPL (102 comments )
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Thats what I was thinking
Yea 300 kbs is terrible, they should have at least offered 784 kbs for free.
Posted by martin1192 (3 comments )
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Dont you think it is enough for average users?
More speed = more download = more bandwidth = more money

Not everyone is massive downloader. The free wifi is for those who want to use it for web surfing, check email... Not for downloading.
Posted by tony_z (32 comments )
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They were already laughing
Then again, those high speeds they are getting in Korea are
based on direct fiber connections along the lines of something
like FIOS, not wireless.
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
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You must be spoiled...
Anything better than dialup or ISDN to me is broadband....
Posted by smilepak (5 comments )
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Why limit competition?
It is anti-consumer to limit the number of companies who can
provide wi-fi in a city. Any company should be able to provide the
service without the city's approval. The desire of politicians to
maintain control and hold over the purse strings is against the
interests of consumers. Other companies may offer faster wi-fi and
more innovative ways of provisioning it. This is the old, failed,
monopoly model.
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
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What competition?
Who were all these other companies rushing to provide
wireless services before the city came up with this plan?
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
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Regulation and Radiation
I know that some of the concern over this has been with the increase in electromagnetic radiation load on all life forms in the area. I wonder if there are any provisions in the deal to monitor health statistics both short and long term to see whether these concerns hold water.

As far as more grassroots wireless communication is concerned, I remember back when I was looking into amateur radio that there was mention of using those frequencies for data transmission. Somehow that never seemed to go much of anywhere.

Do we know what the proposed signal strengths are, what the predicted reliable locations are, how deep into the BART stations you can stay connected, etc. How would users of this service feel about user-controllable software to turn ones own machine into a sub-server to make "chains of pearls" into less clear transmission areas?
Posted by Elfcat (4 comments )
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