Google is currently offering to build — for free — an ultra-high-speed broadband network as a test in one or more American cities. And city governments have been falling all over themselves to obtain this no-cost Google fiber-optic system boasting speeds of 1 gigabyte per second, which is 100-times faster than standard high-speed connections.
The mayor of Duluth, Minn., jumped into the icy waters of Lake Superior to promote his city’s interest. The mayor of Sarasota, Fla., jumped into a tank full of sharks.
But five years ago, when Google offered to build — for free — a state-of-the-art wireless broadband network in San Francisco, city officials nitpicked at the offer for two years before telling Google to go jump in a lake.
It was the ultimate example of how San Francisco not only bites any hand reaching out to feed it, but how our power brokers habitually want an arm and a leg from any private benefactor foolhardy enough to offer The City a gift. Yet, now the Board of Supervisors is presumptuous enough to want Google to forgive and forget. Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday affirming The City’s openness to a new Google proposal.
This is quite a shock, considering that some of the supervisors who did the most to run Google out of town before are still on the board. When Google started trying to give a few Bay Area cities free wireless in 2005, Mountain View accepted a $1 million gift network in only 2½ months. But despite tech-savvy Mayor Gavin Newsom’s solid relationship with Google management and his intensive efforts to bring San Francisco free wireless, the project was promptly bogged down.
After six months, Google began going public with its frustrations about the excruciating slowness of San Francisco bureaucracy. The company cited a series of excessive demands, including free computers and a hefty share of revenue. Soon the usual pressures emerged for The City to start its own public service instead of accepting Google’s expertise and financial backing.
Still, the proposal limped along until mid-2007, when the completed contract was stonewalled by the Board of Supervisors despite an offer of $2 million to The City and being endorsed by the Controller’s Office as fiscally beneficial. The Google-EarthLink partnership making the offer was dissolved and free wireless came off the table.
It remains to be seen whether San Francisco’s leadership might really be more willing this time to stop depriving San Franciscans of major benefits that don’t cost taxpayers a dollar. And, of course, it remains to be seen whether Google is willing to risk being burned by The City again.