SF metro-WiFi project stalls

Five months after Google and EarthLink won a headline-grabbing contract to install a city-wide WiFi network in San Francisco, nothing much has changed. Chris Sacca, who is in charge of Google's special projects, complained that endless rounds of talks with city officials have not moved the ball forward. "Every meeting is like the first," he said in frustration.

Part of the reason for the delay in finalizing the negotiations about implementation is that politicians and bureaucrats typically take longer to negotiate than techies. More substantively, however, is a series of new demands by the city that both Google and EarthLink are resisting. The city now wants the two companies to offer free computers to some city residents, and it also wants a shared-revenue agreement with the companies. There are other issues such as privacy protection (Google wants to use its location-tracking system to track users, so it can beam location-relevant ads to their phones and PDAs), the provision by Google of email support for users (not telephone support), and whether the contract should run for six or 10 years. Ron Vinson, San Francisco's CIO, says: "We want to make sure that we are getting the best deal for the city, and we're working diligently to do just that."

Sacca said that if the city insisted on revenue sharing, then EarthLink might pull out of the contract. He said it was unlikely that Google would make any money on the project at all. Regardless, the greatest danger, Sacca said, was that if the current pace of negotiation continues, the WiFi network may well become obsolete before it is even built.

For more on the San Francisco metro-WiFi network
- see Veme Kopytoff's SFGate.com report