Battle looms over SF muni-WiFi ownership

True to form, the San Francisco muni-WiFi saga continues, and since this is a new week, there new twists and turns. The latest is the likelihood of a showdown between the city's legislative body and the mayor over the issue of who, exactly, should own the free, public Internet service.

The Examiner's Adam Martin reports that at a meeting of the Local Agency Formation Commission a couple of weeks ago, Supervisors Jake McGoldrick and Ross Mirkarimi, pushing a populist agenda, said that the Board of Supervisors may soon vote to make San Francisco's proposed public Internet service the property of the city. Mayor Gavin Newsom, on the other hand, has been actively trying to finalize the details of a contract with Google and Earthlink to create, and own, the city-wide network. The arguments are familiar: The mayor's opponents claim that the two companies will pursue their own commercial interests, rather than the interests of the city residents. The mayor's supporters say that allowing private companies to create and own the network will save the city money; moreover, they point out that there is no necessary conflict between the commercial interests of private companies and the interests of the city. "Wireless Internet technologies are among the most dynamic and rapidly evolving. In that context, we have to ask ourselves, is that city government's core competency," Newsom's spokeswoman, Jennifer Petrucione, said.

We should keep an eye on the goings-on in San Francisco because that city's experience with its WiFi project contains many lessons for other cities. WiFi analyst Craig Settles sees it this way: "[T]his turn of events provides a very strong lesson on why cities that are considering, or are in the process of planning their networks, must execute a thorough and inclusive constituent-needs analysis and technology due-diligence. Based on what I have observed of their activities, had the people driving this initiative taken their time to first do the type of focus groups Philly did with the diversity of constituent groups, plus executed one or two pilot projects, there would not have been the steady drumbeat of constituent and activist discontent."

Stay tuned.

For more on the state of San Francisco muni-WiFi:
- see Adam Martin's San Francisco Examiner report 
- Eric Griffith's Wi-fiplanet report
- Esme Vos's MuniWireless discussion
- and Katie Fehrenbacher's GigaOm commentary