Startup plans to offer city free Wi-Fi

A small startup wants to go big with its free wireless Internet technology and blanket The City in coverage by the end of 2008.

Meraki, a Mountain View-based company started in 2006, has nearly 40,000 subscribers after its “Free the Net” program launched last July, and through a network of volunteers and private partnerships it plans to spread its wireless Internet from the Bay to the ocean.

The announcement comes just after the end of 2007, a year in which The City attempted to bring free wireless Internet access to residents and businesses, but disagreements about contracts and network ownership ultimately halted any deal.

In August 2007, a proposal with EarthLink failed and the Internet provider cut jobs and closed its San Francisco office before the Board of Supervisors could ratify the contract.

Meraki has secured $20 million in funding from several venture capital firms to expand Wi-Fi from a service currently focused in the Lower Haight, Castro and Mission neighborhoods. The expansion, funded entirely by Meraki, will serve as an example to other communities of how the network functions, said Meraki CEO Sanjit Biswas.

“The more general citywide network doesn’t require direct involvement with The City,” Biswas said. “The way we make money is by partnering with service providers and they [pay for] access,” he added.

A service provider can be a company on the level of Earthlink or it can be a smaller entity, such as a business district, Biswas said. In Cambridge, Mass., Meraki does business with the Harvard Square Business Association, which pays for access to the network, but anyone in Harvard Square can surf the wireless Web, he said.

Meraki’s network currently combines signals from “radio repeaters,” which pick up signals from other repeaters to create a mesh of signals that broadcast the Internet wirelessly to computers. Residents can sign up to obtain a repeater, which is unnecessary to access the service, but helps spread the network.

Combining that technology with new, small solar-powered distribution devices, Meraki hopes to have a network in every neighborhood by mid-year and every neighborhood by the end of 2008.

A lack of volunteers or access to rooftops for the solar-powered devices could stymy any expansion, but Meraki officials did not anticipate that being a problem, having teamed up with community groups already.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office is working with Meraki and other companies such as FON, to provide support to the efforts, according to spokesman Nathan Ballard.

dsmith@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A construction worker watches a load for a crane operator at the site of the future Chinatown Muni station for the Central Subway on Tuesday, March 3, 2021. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Major construction on Central Subway to end by March 31

SFMTA board approves renegotiated contract with new deadline, more contractor payments

Neighbors and environmental advocates have found the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park noisy and inappropriate for its natural setting. <ins>(</ins>
Golden Gate Park wheel wins extension, but for how long?

Supervisors move to limit contract under City Charter provision requiring two-thirds approval

San Francisco school teachers and staff will be able to get vaccinations without delay with the recent distribution of priority codes. 
Shutterstock
SF distributes vaccine priority codes to city schools

San Francisco has received its first vaccine priority access codes from the… Continue reading

COVID restrictions have prompted a benefit or two, such as empty streets in The City. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Taking the scenic route through a pandemic

Streets of San Francisco are pleasantly free of traffic

Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina provide the voices of the title characters of “Raya and the Last Dragon.” <ins>(Courtesy Disney)</ins>
‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ boasts full-scale diversity

Though familiar in plot, Disney’s latest is buoyed by beauty, pride and power

Most Read