Two municipal WiFi projects go forward

The cities of Philadelphia and San Francisco reached new milestones on their respective paths toward providing citywide wireless Internet access.

Philadelphia ' which incurred the wrath of commercial telecommunications companies when it announced it would set up a municipal WiFi network ' chose EarthLink Inc. of Atlanta to build its network. Wireless Philadelphia, a nonprofit group established by the city to oversee the project, picked EarthLink over Hewlett-Packard Co. The city originally received 12 proposals earlier in the summer. The city expects to finalize the deal over the next 60 days.

EarthLink agreed to build and maintain the WiFi network, saving the city millions of dollars. In June, Philadelphia CIO Dianah Neff told attendees at the GCN Wireless Solutions Conference in Washington that the network would cost about $15 million to build and $2.5 million annually to maintain.

EarthLink is also among 26 groups that submitted proposals for building a municipal WiFi network in San Francisco. The city issued a request for proposals in August, and recently closed the bidding.

On Monday San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom acknowledged the city's plans faced the same type of opposition as Philadelphia's. But he added that public Internet access was 'long overdue.'

Newsom added that construction of the network could start in five to six months.

Neither WiFi network guarantees free wireless access, as some other municipal projects have attempted to provide. Philadelphia officials estimate access could cost $20 per month, or $10 for low-income residents. In comparison, Verizon Communications Inc., one of the companies that initially tried to block Philadelphia's WiFi project, offers DSL Internet service starting at $14.95 per month.

A spokesman for San Francisco said the proposals the city was vetting included free and low-cost business models, but wouldn't elaborate. Web search giant Google Inc. of nearby Mountain View, Calif., was among the companies submitting proposals.

Officials for both cities said the wireless networks would also provide connections for city workers.


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