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SF puts out call for private sector to build a citywide internet network

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San Francisco is seeking help from the private sector to help develop and build a high-speed fiber-optic network to connect all homes and businesses in The City. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco called on the private sector Wednesday to help build a citywide high-speed Internet network connecting all homes and businesses.

The effort was initiated by Mark Farrell when he was the District 2 supervisor. After being named interim mayor last week, he will continue to lead the project in his new role.

“We are moving ahead with this project at full speed,” Farrell said Tuesday. “This project will become reality and [Wednesday] is a huge step in that direction.”

The City will issue today a request for qualifications (RFQ) to build a citywide fiber-to-the premises network in a public-private partnership. The City will select by April 30 five proposals from those who submit; from there, three would be allowed to bid on a subsequent request for proposals (RFP) to move ahead to actually design, build, finance, operate and maintain the network. The RFP is expected to be issued by the end of this year.

Whomever is selected would expand The City’s existing fiber optic network and lease its use to internet service providers. The internet service would include affordable subsidized rates for low-income residents.

The effort “will reduce the cost for new service providers to enter the market, reduce redundant and costly builds to reach subscribers, and give subscribers more choices for service providers to meet their connectivity needs,” the RFQ reads.

Whomever is selected would also manage The City’s wireless internet service, which is currently in parks and public buildings, and possibly expand it to other parts of town, like tourist destinations.

The City will provide a significant amount of the funding for the project team to develop the network, and there would be a share in the revenues. The City would retain ownership of the fiber network.

The RFQ makes clear that those who manage the network and provide services must adhere to core principles like privacy, affordability and net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission threw out last month net neutrality rules dating back to the Obama Administration.

“By building our own network in San Francisco, we can take back control over these issues and make sure that San Francisco residents’ privacy is safe and that we promote a fast and equitable internet that will allow everything to flourish and not be corrupted by the mega-telecom companies and the policies coming out of Trump’s Administration in Washington,” Farrell said.

The net neutrality requirements for the network include “no blocking of lawful websites” and “no paid prioritization” of certain content.

The cost to create a fiber-optic network connecting every home and business in San Francisco to the internet would cost up to $1.9 billion, according to an estimate from a city-commissioned consultant report issued in October.

Whoever ultimately lands the deal would likely sign an initial 15-year agreement for construction and service. It’s expected it would take between three to five years to build out the network.

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