EarthLink and Google win San Francisco Wi-Fi bid

City selects joint bid to provide residents a wireless network. Decision marks fourth municipal deal for EarthLink.

San Francisco on Wednesday selected a joint bid by EarthLink and Google to provide San Francisco with a wireless network.

Under the joint proposal, which the two companies submitted to the city in February, free and paid wireless service would be available throughout the city.

Chris Vein, executive director of the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services for San Francisco, said on Thursday he expected that negotiations with Google and EarthLink would go smoothly and that work on building out the network could begin this year and be completed within a few months.

In response to a from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center that concluded the Google-EarthLink bid was among the worst on protecting user privacy, Vein said he had not read it.

Privacy was one of the issues considered by San Francisco TechConnect, the committee that selected the EarthLink proposal, Vein said, adding that the panel "felt comfortable enough with the total package of the deal that we should negotiate with EarthLink and Google on issues like privacy and security going forward."

In response to concerns that the wireless network would not penetrate inside buildings adequately enough to be considered true "universal" coverage for city residents, Vein said that issue too would be discussed with Google and EarthLink. "As we negotiate the deal we will push for universal affordable close as we can to" reaching throughout every building, he said.

Google and EarthLink said they were happy to have been the winning bidders.

"We are thrilled that the city of San Francisco has accepted our joint bid with EarthLink to provide Wi-Fi access citywide," Google said in a statement released Thursday. "We look forward to continuing the planning process with the city and EarthLink and are eager to provide free Wi-Fi to the residents of San Francisco."

In a blog, EarthLink Executive Vice President Donald Berryman wrote, "San Francisco is one of the most progressive cities in the world, and our combined offerings with Google, Motorola and Tropos Networks will stretch the possibilities of what a mobile network can do for residents, businesses, municipal government and visitors."

Although EarthLink and Google outbid an initial five competing bids, the contract must still be signed off by the city of San Francisco and reviewed by the Board of Supervisors.

San Francisco residents, as a result, won't likely see the free Wi-Fi service for another six to eight months, an EarthLink representative said.

Google will manage the free 300-kilobits-per-second Wi-Fi service, while EarthLink will offer the faster premium service of 1mbps for up to $20 a month.

San Francisco will mark the fourth municipal Wi-Fi deal for EarthLink. It currently operates Wi-Fi networks in Philadelphia, as well as in California cities Anaheim and Milpitas. Google is providing Wi-Fi access in the city of Mountain View, Calif.

CNET's Elinor Mills contributed to this report.

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