Democracy & Technology Blog San Francisco’s brave experiment
Writing in Technology Review, Mark Williams provides some fascinating detail on the San Francisco Wi-Fi network that Google and EarthLink have teamed up to build (emphasis is mine).
- Google would foot the bill for free Wi-Fi service, which would run–or crawl–at 300 kilobits per second, about five times the speed of a dial-up modem connection. EarthLink would build the network hardware and offer, for $20 a month, a megabit-per-second service with customer support. The proposed network would require at least seven Wi-Fi access points per square kilometer, mounted on city property such as light poles and traffic lights. At this density, the network would meet the city’s coverage goal but would not be guaranteed to reach above the second floor of buildings.
- Mirkarimi, a Green Party member sporting a modish soul patch and representing District 5, which includes Haight-Ashbury, at least posed some of the right questions. Would users of the ad-supported Wi-Fi simply go through a Google portal page, he asked, or would they also have to suffer through pop-ups? And since Google said that its technology could “target advertisements to specific geographical locations and to user interests,” what would prevent users’ locations from being tracked? To such questions, the response from the bureaucrats at the city’s Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS), and from the private consultants they’d hired, was essentially, “Wise up and quit griping–the city is getting a great deal for free.”
- The DTIS officials were equally unforthcoming when asked whether it made much sense for San Francisco to effectively grant Google and EarthLink a monopoly on wireless Internet service for the proposed 10-year term of the contract, given how rapidly information technology advances. As Ralf Muehlen, director of the nonprofit Wi-Fi network SFLan, pointed out, “In 2021, 300 kilobits per second is going to seem a bit ridiculous. … it’s a great solution for, like, 1996.”
See: “Golden Gate Lark: Should San Franciscans trust Google and their mayor to improvise the city’s Wi-Fi network?” by Mark Williams, Technology Review, Sept. 8, 2006