SAN FRANCISCO – The City of San Francisco and EarthLink said on Friday they had reached a tentative deal to offer free wireless Internet access, promising to make it the first major U.S. city to deliver municipal Wi-Fi services citywide.
Internet access provider EarthLink Inc. is working with partners including Google Inc. to develop a free wireless Internet program throughout the hilly city of 777,000 residents under a preliminary agreement announced last April.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said the agreement reached on Friday between the city and EarthLink will provide wireless Internet access at no cost to taxpayers and extend to cover neighborhoods throughout San Francisco over time.
“Ubiquitous Wi-Fi will change how residents access education, social services and economic opportunities,” Newsom said.
The deal, which gives EarthLink access to public rights of way to install the necessary Wi-Fi radio antennas, follows more than a year of negotiations and public hearings where backers sought to assuage the public over privacy and security concerns.
The next step is for the city’s Board of Supervisors to review the agreement and decide whether to approve the deal.
“We look forward to working with the Board of Supervisors to gain approval of the agreement so we can begin building out the network in 2007,” Donald Berryman, president of EarthLink’s municipal networks unit, said in a statement.
EarthLink has said it plans to offer the free, 300 kilobit-per-second Wi-Fi service alongside a premium commercial service at speeds of 1 megabit or faster for around $20 a month. This commercial service would target consumers and businesses looking for faster Internet access.
In late 2005, the city received 26 proposals from private and nonprofit organizations on how to deliver universal Wi-Fi service throughout San Francisco. Rival proposals came from telephone companies, Internet service providers and grassroots groups.
The EarthLink wireless access plan contrasts with the current hodgepodge of wireless connections typically offered by public, nonprofit and government entities in busy “hot spots” in and around major public buildings or plazas in many cities.
Other cities including Philadelphia, New Orleans and Portland, Oregon, are also developing citywide wireless networks of their own.
Details of the San Francisco-EarthLink deal can be found at http://www.sfgov.org/techconnect.