EarthLink-Google team to build WiFi net for San Francisco

San Francisco has selected a team headed by EarthLink Inc. of Atlanta and Google Inc. to build a citywide WiFi network that is expected to provide free and low-cost Internet access for the city.

The selection was made Wednesday by the city's Telecommunications and Information Services Department, which is driving the TechConnect project. EarthLink has been tapped for a number of high-profile muni- WiFi projects, including those in Philadelphia and in Anaheim, Calif. Google is wiring (or unwiring) its hometown of Mountain View, Calif., for WiFi

"It's our standard reference network design in a number of other cities, including Philadelphia," Bill Tolpegin, EarthLink's VP of development and planning, said of the proposal.

The network initially will offer symmetrical speeds of 1 Mbps.

Municipal WiFi projects have generated opposition from commercial service providers who object to what they say is unfair competition. The San Francisco proposal has drawn criticism because it plans to grant a long-term citywide monopoly for the wireless service.

The city received more than 20 responses to a request for proposals released in August, and a selection committee whittled those down to six finalists.

The selection of the EarthLink-Google team does not mean it is a done deal. The Telecom and Info Services Department will now begin contract negotiations with the team.

"If for any reason the city cannot come to agreement, DTIS may terminate negotiations with this organization and commence negotiations with the next-highest ranked proposer," the department said in a statement.

EarthLink has proposed using 802.11b and g access points from Tropos Networks Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., in a mesh configuration that lets each access point act as a router. Signals would be backhauled out of the mesh to aggregation points by Canopy wireless hardware from Motorola Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill. From there, traffic could be taken to an EarthLink network point of presence either by landline or wireless link. The city's specifications call for more than 90 percent coverage by the network outdoors and more than 80 percent coverage indoors.

Google would offer and manage a free low-speed service and invest in the deployment and operation of the network.

The length of the agreement will be determined in contract negotiations. Tolpegin said work on the network could begin quickly after a contract was signed, and build-out would take about eight months.

William Jackson is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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