Free Wi-Fi boxes hang above street signs at the corner of Sutter and Sansome streets. (Mike Koomin/2014 S.F. Examiner)

SF begins crunching numbers on citywide internet access

San Francisco plans to launch a four-month study on how to provide broadband internet service to all residents and businesses.

Per the “Broadband for San Francisco Project,” an outside consultant, which the Department of Technology will select next month, will analyze the best model to ensure broadband internet access throughout The City. Those models include a public-only service or a public-private partnership.

“No other big city the size of San Francisco has engaged in this ambitious a project,” said Brian Roberts, policy analyst with the Department of Technology. “Many features of this project would be new.”

The effort is overseen by the Capital Planning Committee, a group of department heads who publicly meet on monthly or bi-weekly basis, and is chaired by City Administrator Naomi Kelly.

Once the consultant is selected next month by the Department of Technology, analysis and recommendations on which model to pursue would be completed after four months.

A condition of the project is that internet service speed for each subscriber must be 1 Gigabit per second.

“Importantly, [the Department of Technology] is seeking a vendor with an understanding of the key decision drivers that potential industry side participants and investors would employ for the Broadband for San Francisco,” reads an Aug. 11 request for proposals by Department of Technology.

Once a model is approved by The City, San Francisco has scheduled 15 months for working out and approving the agreements to implement the envisioned “Broadband for San Francisco Project.”

Roberts said The City is also planning to hire a project manager for the Department of Public Works to focus on the broadband project.

“Broadband, especially some of the options we are considering, is really a construction project and an IT project. The heavy lift is really the construction piece, doing the digging, the stringing on poles, that kind of thing.”

In places like Huntsville, Ala., and Westminster, Md., the government owns the fiber network and then partners with service providers to hook up and provide service to customers. In Huntsville, the service provider is Google Fiber; in Westminster, the provider is Ting.

The project is expected to address San Francisco’s digital divide, as identified in an April 2015 budget analyst report that found 12 percent of San Francisco residents — more than 100,000 people — do not have home internet service. Additionally, 14 percent of public school students and 50,000 residents have sluggish dial-up service.

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