Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The battle for a Publc Internet (PI): San Francisco activist groups rally against Google/Earthlink "monopoly" deal for free WiFi

Posted by Tom Foremski - January 27, 2007


Several San Francisco activist groups and non-profit internet companies have joined together to protest a proposed deal between the city and a Google/Earthlink partnership to provide free WiFi.

Called the Public Net San Francisco coalition, the group issued a statement Friday insisting that the city government kill a multi-million dollar pending deal with Google and Earthlink. Instead, the coalition says the city's existing high speed fiber optic network has plenty of spare capacity to support a high-speed Internet network open to every resident regardless of income.

Bruce Wolfe of the San Francisco People's Organization, said that the proposed Google/Earthlink free WiFi network would be too slow to support many common Internet uses, such as telephony and online video. It would leave San Francisco residents "in the digital dust."

Eric Brooks, with the activist group Our City, criticized San Francisco's Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS) for rushing through a contract process with little public input.

"After nearly a century of San Franciscans suffering rip-offs and incredibly bad service under the monopoly control of our public utilities by corporations like PG&E, Comcast, and AT&T, it amazes me that DTIS can stand there with a straight face and try to convince us that we should let a multinational corporate partnership own and control our new public communications system," said Mr Brooks.

The city already has much of the infrastructure in place to build a WiFi network as much as 100 times faster than the snail-paced Google/Earthlink WiFi technology. It's a "clunker" said Tim Pozar with United Layer, a free Internet services provider. "If we go for municipal ownership of a system that makes use of all the City's public assets, including the high speed ring of fiber optic cable lying only half used right under our feet, we can get a vastly superior, and 10 to 100 times faster system."

The city's high speed fiber-optic network is already people owned claimed Ralf Muehlen, of the non-profit SFLan. "We already paid for the City's fiber with our taxes, we should now put it to good use."

Foremski's Take: The Google/Earthlink deal with San Francisco could potentially establish a model for municipalities across the US and in other countries. It would be the start of a massive new market for giant Internet companies such as Google and Earthlink.

It would put them in the forefront of a race with competitors for the next big market opportunity: the gold rush to monetise local markets. (Please continue in news analysis...)  

Links:

http://Public.FreeMuni.Net is the central location for all things San Francisco Broadband.

http://www.our-city.org"
http://www.sfpeople.org"
http://www.sflan.org"

- - -

Here is the full statement from Public Net San Francisco:

Coalition Demands That City Reject Google/Earthlink Monopoly WiFi Deal and Instead Give San Franciscans Truly Free, High Speed, Public Internet

Today, Public Net San Francisco, a coalition of various community groups
and Internet professionals, insisted that the City of San Francisco
cancel the pending Google/Earthlink monopoly WiFi deal, and instead use
the City's existing high speed fiber optic network as the backbone to
build a truly modern, fast, and free, public communications system.

Groups releasing the statement included Our City, the San Francisco
People's Organization (SFPO), the community wireless network SFLan, and
Internet services provider United Layer.

Their statement follows closely on the heels of a report just released
by the San Francisco Budget Analyst's Office, which makes clear that the
Google/Earthlink deal will result in an inferior monopoly franchise that
will give San Franciscans much slower access than nearly all other
cities providing municipal Internet, and more importantly, will fail to
serve the intended core goal of the project - to make certain that all
San Franciscans, regardless of their income, get free fast and equal
access to the Internet.

The report states that the Department of Telecommunications and
Information Services (DTIS) acted far too hastily in adopting the
monopoly deal, without seeking sufficient input from the public, and
notably failing to include possibilities for using over 35 miles of city
owned fiber optic cable to build a much more robust system, that could
be owned by the public, and could provide all San Franciscans with free
Internet service at least ten times faster access speeds than the
Google/Earthlink plan.

Said Bruce Wolfe of the San Francisco People's Organization, "I don't
get it. DTIS spent over a year coming up with this plan and it doesn't
even serve its primary goal of making sure that everybody in San
Francisco, regardless of income, gets free and equal Internet access.
Smooth video, and clear phone calls, are becoming basic uses of the
Internet. This deal provides neither to nonpaying users, leaving them in
the digital dust."

Eric Brooks with the local grassroots organization Our City stated,
"After nearly a century of San Franciscans suffering rip-offs and
incredibly bad service under the monopoly control of our public
utilities by corporations like PG&E, Comcast, and AT&T, it amazes me
that DTIS can stand there with a straight face and try to convince us
that we should let a multinational corporate partnership own and control
our new public communications system."

Tim Pozar with United Layer, the Internet services provider that
installed a free Internet system for users in San Francisco's Alice
Griffith housing project, stated, "The Budget Analyst's report shows
clearly what we have been saying to the City for over a year now. If we
go for municipal ownership of a system that makes use of all the City's
public assets, including the high speed ring of fiber optic cable lying
only half used right under our feet, we can get a vastly superior, and
10 to 100 times faster system, than the clunker being offered to us by
Earthlink and Google."

Ralf Muehlen, who already provides free Internet access to hundreds of
San Franciscans through the nonprofit community wireless network SFLan
concluded, "The big problem with the Earthlink system is that it uses a
slow, wireless-only backbone that cannot accommodate even today's needs
let alone the needs of the next 16 years. 300 kilobits per second is so
1997; it'll be utterly ridiculous in 2023, which is how long Earthlink's
monopoly will last. Earthlink has little incentive to upgrade, and their
non-fiber backbone has no spare capacity. A hybrid network, that uses
both wireless and existing fiber can support much higher speeds and is
more robust. We already paid for the City's fiber with our taxes, we
should now put it to good use."

Links:

http://www.our-city.org"
http://www.sfpeople.org"
http://www.sflan.org"

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