EarthLink, San Francisco finalize Wi-Fi contract

The city of San Francisco and EarthLink have finalized a contract that will enable EarthLink to build a citywide wireless network and Google to provide free Internet access.

Details of the contract, completed on Friday, can be seen here. The agreement must be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

"This agreement catapults San Francisco into a leadership position in wireless technology: the network ensures universal, affordable wireless broadband access for all San Franciscans, especially low-income and disadvantaged residents; and through the Mayor's digital divide program, children and students will have the digital tools to ensure that they have access to everything that the Internet has to offer the growing minds of the City's promising future," said Donald Berryman, executive vice president of EarthLink and president of the ISP's municipal networks unit.

Google is not mentioned specifically in the document, but worked with EarthLink to pursue the contract. EarthLink is building the network and will offer a fee-based premium service, but Google will offer a basic free service.

"We are thrilled that EarthLink and the Mayor's office have reached an agreement that will enable us to provide free citywide Wi-Fi to the over one million residents and visitors of San Francisco," Google said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing the approval process with EarthLink and the Board of Supervisors and remain excited to see the service go live as soon as possible."

It was unclear whether the final agreement adequately addresses concerns by critics that the EarthLink-Google proposal failed to provide adequate privacy safeguards for consumers or that the Wi-Fi signal would not penetrate deep enough into most buildings to enable service without consumers buying extra equipment. The final agreement allows subscribers to opt out of EarthLink's use of their location information based on their use of the network and limits EarthLink's retention of the location data to 60 days in most circumstances.

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