Google, EarthLink Together on San Francisco Wi-Fi Proposal

By Eric Griffith

February 22, 2006

The two biggest names making noise in municipal networks these days could end up as partners.

Late Tuesday, a short statement was released by the PR agency for EarthLink that the ISP has jointly submitted to the request for proposals (RFP) from the city of San Francisco for building a citywide wireless municipal network — with Google.

The statement, from Donald Berryman, Executive Vice President of EarthLink and President of the company’s Municipal Networks Unit, said, “By coming together to leverage the strengths of both companies, we will be able to offer services to different customers on the network that fit with their own individual needs and wants.”

“Fundamentally, this RFP is in line with EarthLink’s belief in ‘open access’ that these municipal networks should offer the tools, services and applications that businesses, governments and consumers want to use to enable, enrich and empower their Internet experiences.”

City officials told the San Jose Mercury News that six proposals in total were submitted Tuesday night. Other vendors included MetroFi, Communication Bridge Global, NextWLAN, Razortooth Communications and SF Metro Connect (made up of SeaKay, Cisco Systems and IBM).

The city will take the next couple of months to go through the proposals, and plans to make a recommendation in April. Sometime soon, the proposals should be viewable online at SF TechConnect. [The proposals are now viewable here in PDF format.]

In December, the TechConnect Initiative driving the municipal network’s birth announced it had narrowed down the choice of providers to five companies that responded to the RFP: EarthLink, Google, HP, MetroFi and Skytel/MCI.

Well-known ISP EarthLink is, of course, known in Wi-Fi circles as the winner of the contracts to unwire the cities of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Anaheim, California (with more in the pipeline). EarthLink’s stated equipment partners for these ventures have long been Tropos Networks (mesh equipment) and Motorola (wireless backhaul).

Google’s interest in the San Francisco municipal network has long been rumored. The company was offering to build out the network for free, and would have provided free access with limited bandwidth to all users.

Om Malik reports that the EarthLink/Google proposal would be a two-tier business model. Google would offer slower  (256 to 384 Kbps) but free service; EarthLink’s access would be faster (1Mbps) but at a cost. Each would share the cost of deployment.

Google already sponsors select hotspots in the city, such as the one at Union Square. Google has also taken on the task of unwiring its own hometown, Mountain View, just southeast of San Francisco.

Other major U.S. cities planning to issue RFPs for citywide wireless networks in the coming year include Chicago and Boston. Houston, Texas put out an RFP last week.

Some states have made municipal-run broadband networks illegal, but there is work afoot at the national level to reverse such laws. Just last week, two new bills were introduced to get senators to back community wireless networks by getting unused TV broadcast bands opened for use.



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