City-owned Wi-Fi pushed

As The City continues closed-door negotiations with Google and Earthlink to blanket San Francisco with a wireless Internet network, an alternative notion of a city-owned Wi-Fi captured the imaginations of some supervisors.

The City is expected to wrap up negotiations with the two Internet companies by the end of the year, and the contract will then come before the Board of Supervisors for approval.

When voting on the agreement, supervisors will also have to decide if a city-owned wireless network is a better way to go.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick will request during Monday’s Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting that the Budget Analyst Office draft a report on the feasibility of The City building its own wireless network.

“I am leaning towards a municipally owned system for various reasons. One is because then we would have control of the quality and we would have control of the pricing,” McGoldrick said. “Our motive would not be a profit motive. Ours would be a public service motive.”

Brian Roberts, of the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services, the city agency negotiating the Wi-Fi — for “wireless fidelity” — agreement, said a city-owned wireless network does not make sense since The City does not have the expertise of establishing such a network and that “there’s a fair amount of risk involved both in terms of the technology and the business.”

McGoldrick said, “I am not going to ask anybody to make a decision until we have enough facts on the table.” He said it would take between two and three months for the Office of the Budget Analyst to issue the report.

“The DTIS was not instructed to go and do that analysis in any thorough way. They ignored that. I’m sorry, it’s regrettable but we can’t make decisions until we get some better analysis,” McGoldrick said.

A wireless network would essentially turn the whole city into an Internet “hotspot,” making it possible to use the Internet, send e-mail and perform other functions without having to plug in a computer.

During The City’s Local Agency Formation Commission hearing Friday on the Wi-Fi negotiations, Roberts said the “negotiations are going well.” The City is looking at a 16-year contract with a possibility to terminate the agreement every four years. The City is seeking 5 percent of the gross revenue.

Media Alliance, in collaboration with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, released a report during the commission hearing that said The City could set up its own citywide Wi-Fi network while profiting $2 million a year during a 10-year period. The report said The City could build its own network with a $10 million investment.

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