Foster City seals deal for free Wi-Fi Internet access

Officials have closed a deal to provide free wireless telecommunications access throughout the city, moving it ahead of a consortium working to extend a canopy of wireless access across much of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

Mountain View-based MetroFi will rent space on approximately 100 Foster City light poles under the deal, where it will install cylindrical antennas that should create Internet access hotspots in most outdoor locations, according to Steve Toler, administrative services director for Foster City. The city will earn $36 per pole per year, and MetroFi will offer residents both a free, ad-driven service and an ad-free link that costs about $20 per month.

Although Foster City also plans to participate in Wireless Silicon Valley, a larger effort that would bring wireless access to nearly 40 Peninsula and South Bay cities, it jumped on the opportunity to get its own network up and running by October.

“MetroFi approached us before we’d thrown our hat in the ring for [Wireless Silicon Valley],” Toler said. “There was no guarantee that Foster would be covered, and we didn’t want to necessarily hold up the possibility for residents to get the service.”

The news comes at a time when cities across the nation are going wireless. Philadelphia has hammered out an arrangement with EarthLink to provide low-cost Internet access to residents while receiving 5 percent of EarthLink’s revenue, which the city will then use to fund educational and social programs.

In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom has inked a deal with EarthLink and Google to provide a citywide wireless network. That arrangement has drawn criticism on many fronts, including from Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who argues that a privately financed and operated network will quickly become outdated.

The project also earned jeers from the Pacific Research Institute.

“A city administration that cannot fix our streets, run an effective public transport system, address the tragedy of the homeless and reduce taxes has no business monopolizing the Internet,” said Sonia Arrison, director of technology studies at PRI, in a written statement.

Wireless Silicon Valley is accepting bids for the multicity wireless plan through June 30, according to Brian Moura, San Carlos assistant city manager. More than 140 wireless vendors have inquired about the bidding process.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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