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Campaign begins building support for citywide fiber internet

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High-speed internet is installed in the Mission-Duboce area on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (Joshua Sabatini/S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco is building support among community groups in anticipation of a plan to connect every home and business with high-speed fiber optic internet service.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, who has also enlisted the support of former Supervisor Eric Mar, is vowing it’s time to stop talking and take action in providing a citywide fiber optic internet service to every home and business in The City.

SEE RELATED: SF’s model for citywide gigabit-speed internet service could come by June

He has assembled a working group called “San Franciscans for Municipal Fiber” of some 60 individuals and nonprofits, ranging from youths to affordable housing providers, which launched Wednesday morning. Farrell is leading the group along with the more progressive former elected official Mar.

The aim is to not only collect data from these groups’ members but also build support for the initiative.

The City has already seen what happens when in-fighting can sink an internet deal. A decade ago, the Google-Earthlink proposal lacked broad support and fell apart.

In the opening of the meeting, Farrell provided his pitch for achieving the milestone and asked nonprofits to fill out surveys among their members and receive feedback within a three-month time frame. Next month, the nonprofits will convene in sub groups, such as senior services or affordable housing providers.

Those in attendance included officials with the Compass Family Services, the Boys and Girls Club, the Aquatic Park senior center, and the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation; and Eric Brooks of Our City and Brian Purchia, cofounder of CivicMakers.

The meetings will include guidance from the Department of Technology’s newly-hired consultant, Maryland-based CTC Technology and Energy. The consultant will issue a study by June on the best model for San Francisco to achieve a citywide fiber internet service. Models explored include a public and a public-private system.

Farrell helped secure funding for the contract with CTC Technology and Energy. If The City advances with a model, then the consultant would solicit proposals, which would take 11 months, concluding by May 2018.

“We do not want to move forward without including everybody that has been spending so much time already working on this topic in San Francisco,” Farrell said in his opening remarks.

He noted well-known statistics about the lack of internet access in the self-dubbed innovation capital of the world.

“That we still have over 100,000 San Franciscans without internet access in home to me is criminal,” he said. Other stats include that 40,000 use a slow dial-up connection and 14 percent of public school students lack internet access at home.

Mar stressed that the key to success was the broad support being forged. “This is the kind of coalition that can establish municipal fiber network in our city,” Mar said.

The survey provided to attendees to give to their members ask such questions as if they have internet access at home, what the speed is, how many computer devices are owned, why those who lack internet access don’t have it, whose is their current internet provider, and how much people would pay for the proposed internet speeds of at least one gigabit.

Farrell said he was confident in realizing the effort at last. “I don’t want to be here as a former supervisor talking about this five years from now as an idea,” Farrell said. “That would be a failure.”

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