Supes postpone Wi-Fi scrutiny

Countering the wishes of Mayor Gavin Newsom, members of the Board of Supervisors have postponed until at least July a vote on his high-profile agreement with EarthLink and Google to blanket San Francisco in a free wireless Internet network.

Back in January, Newsom finalized a deal with the two giant Internet companies that could make San Francisco the first American city of its size to provide free wireless, or Wi-Fi, service. The agreement, however, requires approval from the Board of Supervisors.

Led by Supervisor Chris Daly, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee decided Monday to postpone further consideration of the agreement until July 11. Minutes before the committee meeting, Newsom stood on the steps of City Hall calling on board members to approve the agreement as soon as possible.

Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Sean Elsbernd, both Newsom allies, failed in convincing Daly and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi — two of the other supervisors on the committee — to hold a second hearing on the agreement as early as May 29.

Dufty, who supports the EarthLink-Google deal, suggested during the hearing that the Mayor’s Office wants a board vote on the agreement as soon as possible in order to be able to put the agreement on the November ballot should it not pass.

The Mayor’s Office stopped short of saying it would go to the ballot. Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard, however, said, “We can’t dillydally forever. At some point, the voters will want to express their opinion about free Wi-Fi.”

A Controller’s Office report released Friday estimated that existing Internet service customers in San Francisco could save as much as $18 million annually if the Wi-Fi deal were approved.

Daly said that the July 11 date provides the Budget Analyst’s Office time to review the agreement, takes the committee past budget season, when it will be busy discussing Newsom’s city budget for the year beginning July 1 and gives the committee a chance to discuss a city-owned Internet network.

Board members, including Daly, have said a city-owned Internet network would be a better option than the EarthLink-Google deal since The City would not be motivated by profit and could therefore offer better service.

Newsom said he was “absolutely perplexed” that The City is “struggling to get the votes it needs to get this Internet access up and running.”

Newsom, who faces an election this year, said board members should “put politics aside and do the right thing.”

Daly, however, said, “I’m not playing politics.” He added, “I generally prefer the municipal approach in terms of most services, and it’s not different here. I think there are clear upsides.”

Under the agreement, Google would provide free service at a relatively slow rate of 300 kilobytes per second. EarthLink would pay The City about $2 million during the initial four-year term of the contract and offer a faster,

1 megabyte-per-second service for a charge of $21.95 per month. EarthLink says it could have a citywide Wi-Fi network in place within 18 months after the contract is approved.

jsabatini@examiner.com

Free Wi-Fi: Should it be Google/Earthlink or city-provided?

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