S.F. Wi-Fi deal disconnected, Newsom reports

Mayor Gavin Newsom confirmed Wednesday that the deal he championed to create a free, citywide wireless Internet system is dead — but he said he’s not giving up on the dream of providing universal Wi-Fi to San Franciscans.

Earlier this week, EarthLink announced that it was cutting 900 jobs and closing four offices, including its office in San Francisco. The Atlanta-based company’s new chief executive officer also announced that EarthLink, which had reached a deal with city officials to provide wireless Internet service, would likely move away from any new municipal Wi-Fi projects.

Although San Francisco’s deal with EarthLink had been signed, it had not been approved by the Board of Supervisors, which was scheduled to hold a hearing on the proposed contract in September. The company was also reviewing amendments to the contract proposed by Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin that would have required a boost to the minimum connection speed, reduced the contract length and increased privacy protections.

Newsom, who announced the deal in January, blamed the lost deal on delays from the Board of Supervisors.

“San Francisco missed an opportunity in February and March of passing the deal,” Newsom said. “That would have required EarthLink to perform, but we missed that window of opportunity and that’s the reality, the difficulty we had getting that through the board.”

The mayor said he hasn’t given up on the idea of bringing free Wi-Fi to The City, however. A new solicitation to providers, called a Request for Proposals, will go out as soon as possible, according to the mayor.

“This is a disappointment, but it’s not a denial,” Newsom said. “We’re going to fast-track the development of a new RFP based on all the work that’s already been done.”

Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who has advocated that The City forego a private partnership in favor of a municipalwireless Internet system, said that the mayor needs to work with the Board of Supervisors during the contract negotiations.

“There needs to be lessons learned from this; otherwise, they’ll always be doomed,” Ammiano said.

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