Mayor: Wi-Fi deal almost complete

*CORRECTION: This article on a proposed wireless Internet network for San Francisco (“Mayor: Wi-Fi deal almost complete,” Dec. 7) incorrectly stated there would be a community meeting tonight, Dec. 7, at the Richmond Recreation Center at 251 18th Ave. That meeting was Wednesday night. The only meeting on Thursday, Dec. 7, is at the Glen Park Recreation Center at 70 Elk St.

A deal to provide San Francisco residents with free wireless Internet service could be reached as early as next week, according to Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Contract negotiations between The City and the two high-tech firms working together to provide the citywide Wi-Fi network — Google and EarthLink — have been ongoing for 10 months.

“I’m confident,” Newsom said. “We’re getting in the red zone.”

If The City is given final approval by the Board of Supervisors, EarthLink will be charged with building and maintaining the wireless network and Google will create the services that will be offered to residents: a free service that works at about 300 kilobits per second, and a faster, one-megabit-per-second Internet service available for about $21 per month.

“We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think we’d be making our money back,” said EarthLink spokesman Jerry Grasso, who estimated that the Wi-Fi program would cost approximately $15 million over the next decade.

Critics of the citywide Wi-Fi plan — including several members of the Board of Supervisors — have argued against putting the ambitious Internet system in the hands of private companies, proposing that a city-owned network would better serve the public interest.

A board-initiated study of how The City could create a publicly owned citywide Internet system is expected to be completed by the end of the year, which could force a showdown between the legislative body and the mayor, who has championed the private-public partnership as the best path for bringing free Wi-Fi to San Francisco.

“Information services is never a core competency of any city in this country … it’s the private sector’s ingenuity,” Newsom said. “This will provide open access and can be managed privately with public benefit. I think that’s the way to go, instead of creating a new bureaucracy in our city.”

Chris Vein, director of The City’s technology office, said the negotiated contract will cover the business and technical aspects of the system, including security and privacy concerns, costs and how the infrastructure would be built.

“I’m working to bring the best deal possible to The City,” Vein said, adding that if the Board of Supervisors approves the contract, installation of the network could begin within a few months.

Since October, Google and EarthLink have been holding community meetings to promote their proposal. The last meetings will be held tonight, at the Glen Park Recreation Center, 70 Elk St., and the Richmond Recreation Center, 251 18th Ave. Both meetings begin at 6 p.m.*

beslinger@examiner.com

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