EarthLink, Google team in S.F. Wi-Fi bid

Free-service proposal is one of six proposals San Francisco received for providing citywide Wi-Fi network.

EarthLink has teamed up with Google on a bid to offer free wireless Internet access throughout the city of San Francisco and premium service for a fee, a Google spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The Google-EarthLink bid was among six presented to the city by Tuesday, the bidding deadline, according to a statement from the office of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. A review panel is expected to make recommendations by early April, the statement said.

The other proposals were submitted by Communication Bridge Global, MetroFi, NextWLAN, Razortooth Communications (dba RedTAP) and SF Metro Connect (a joint venture of community-computing nonprofit SeaKay and Cisco Systems and IBM).

"In this proposal, Google will provide a free Wi-Fi service citywide and EarthLink will serve as the premium service provider," Google said in a statement. "We have submitted this proposal because at Google we're focused on creating new technologies that make it easier for people to quickly access the world's information. It is also a way for Google to support the local community. We believe this proposal and our combined technological expertise will benefit the residents of San Francisco by offering a choice in connectivity and service providers."

"I think both companies benefit from this partnership in terms of increasing their odds to win," Bill Tolpegin, vice president of development and planning at EarthLink Municipal Networks, said in an interview.

Under the plan, Google would manage the free Wi-Fi service, which will run at 300 kilobits per second, while EarthLink would offer a 1-megabit-per-second service with customer support for $20 a month or less, he said. Cable companies, telephone companies and local Internet Service Providers are expected to be charged $9 to $12 a month wholesale charges to use the Wi-Fi network for reselling their own wireless service, he said.

Google and EarthLink would jointly deploy and manage the network, but Tolpegin declined to say how much the companies are prepared to invest. EarthLink spent $10 million to $15 million to build a Wi-Fi network in Philadelphia that covers 135 square miles, he said, adding that the San Francisco network would cover 47 square miles.

Google is providing Wi-Fi access to Mountain View, Calif., and is testing service in spots in San Francisco. Meanwhile, in addition to the contract EarthLink has to set up a Wi-Fi network in Philadelphia, the company won a contract for Anaheim, Calif., is a finalist in Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., Brookline, Mass., and Arlington, Va., and is in discussions with five to 10 other cities, Tolpegin said. "We are considering additional opportunities on muni Wi-Fi" with Google.

Google needed to team up with an ISP for a proper bid, according to a posting on the Muniwireless.com blog.

"I am not surprised by this move since Google is not an ISP and needs to team up with a service provider to build and run the network," the posting said. "EarthLink, on the other hand, has been a traditional dial-up provider that is now muscling into the broadband market traditionally held by incumbent operators and cable companies."

Last summer Newsom initiated the San Francisco Tech Connect project, whose mandate is to bring affordable broadband Internet access to San Francisco's nearly 750,000 residents.

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