EarthLink mum on Wi-Fi changes in S.F.

The promise of making San Francisco one of the most wired cities in the Bay Area is causing a lot of crossed wires. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s high-profile agreement with EarthLink to blanket The City with free wireless Internet access via the Wi-Fi protocol has been bogged down in bureaucracy since it was introduced in January to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

On Wednesday, EarthLink failed to respond to proposed changes to the agreement made by Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. Peskin said these changes would likely ensure the agreement’s passage at the Board of Supervisors.

The free Wi-Fi network, which would come at no cost to The City, would allow anyone with acomputer in San Francisco to connect to the Internet. The service would work best outdoors.

Newsom, who is up for re-election in November, has criticized the board for not voting on the agreement as soon as possible, but some board members say the free service is too slow and that a city-owned network could better serve residents.

The agreement is also being threatened by opponents calling for a yearlong review of the possible health impacts of the more than 2,000 necessary Wi-Fi antennas. The board’s vote on their appeal was postponed on Tuesday until July 31.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the agreement, but continued it until next week when EarthLink failed to respond to the proposed changes, after promising to do so two weeks ago.

“Someday, we will hear from them [EarthLink], or maybe we won’t,” said Peskin, who chairs the committee. “We will just wait for the phone to ring.”

“We are still evaluating and performing due diligence to understand the implications” of the changes, EarthLink spokesman Jerry Grasso said.

The changes Peskin has asked EarthLink to agree to include a speed increase of the free Internet service from 300 kilobits per second to 500, a decrease in the length of the contract from 16 to eight years, and an option for The City to purchase the technology at a fair market price at the end of the contract.

The agreement could be enacted without board approval if it was placed on the November ballot. The deadline to put it on the ballot is Aug. 3.

“We think the voters would be very receptive to free Wi-Fi. However, we are not taking that step at this time,” Newsom’s spokesman Nathan Ballard said.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano said Wednesday that he was working with Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi on proposed agreement changes beyond what Peskin requested, such as an even faster rateof service.

Under the agreement, EarthLink would pay The City about $2 million during the initial four-year term of the contract and offer a faster, 1 megabit-per-second service for a charge of $21.95 per month. Google would offer the slower, free service.

jsabatini@examiner.com


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