Poor, seniors to get free WiFi in 'Frisco

Just when it seemed the free muni-WiFi model was dead, buried, kaput, outtahere, Meraki resurfaced at a press conference with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to say it would team up with the city to bring free Internet access to 12 low-income housing projects in the Tenderloin as well as provide free WiFi to senior centers throughout the city by the end of the year.

Meraki is building a citywide network it hopes to complete by 2009. About 150,000 of the city's 860,000 residents use the network, according to the mayor. Currently, the network covers about 10 to 13 square miles, which is a fraction of San Francisco's proposed 49-square-mile free WiFi deal but it's a big jump over the 3 square miles Meraki covered about six months ago.

Meraki is not an ISP, it's a hardware company that makes WiFi equipment and gives away its small WiFi repeaters and network gateways to residents who volunteer to deploy the equipment on rooftops or on their windowsills to create a wireless mesh. In exchange for mounting the gear, Meraki picks up the tab for the Internet service and provides free access through the wireless network to anyone without advertising. In neighborhoods where Meraki is deployed people can access the network while walking down the street or they get a repeater for in-home coverage. Meraki, as the network operator, provides support for the service. Not altogether surprisingly, Meraki has no plans to replicate its completely free WiFi network in other cities.

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