There are cities larger than San Francisco where the city governments have been rolling our WiFi services, and yet, the SF muni-WiFi has assumed an almost totemic importance in the scheme of things. So it is duly noted that last Friday EarthLink and the city of San Francisco have finally reached an agreement to build what may well become the largest free municipal WiFi service in the U.S. EarthLink and Google were selected last April over other bidders. The mayor has signed a four-year contract with the companies, a contract which has to be approved by the city's Board of Supervisors and Public Utilities Commission.
The deal calls for a 300 Kbps free WiFi service for SF residents (about 800,000). EarthLink will charge $21.95 a month for a 1 Mbps service, which also will be offered to 3,200 low-income city residents at a discounted rate of $12.95. The company in turn will spend between $14 million and $17 million to build and maintain the network, and will also pay $600,000 in right-of-way access fees to the city and $40,000 per year for the use of street light poles to install its equipment.
Google will help support the free service by selling ads--on the EarthLink or Google homepage that will automatically pop up when users log on and, more controversially (and still in the planning stages), by forcing location-based ads to phone users' LCD screens as they walk or drive by advertising establishments.
The city, by the way, will receive a 5 percent cut of all gross revenues resulting from the service, including local paid subscriptions.
For more on the state of muni-WiFi:
- see this comprehensive Kristina Dell's Time Magazine report