Lessons from the Left Coast: San Francisco’s Community Wireless Broadband Initiative
8 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2012
Date Written: August 15, 2006
In December 2005, the city of San Francisco issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a community wireless broadband network. The RFP stated that the network was to be built, operated and maintained at no cost to the city, that a basic level of service should be free, and that the entire city (and county, which is contiguous with the city) should be covered.
Responses submitted included two proposals from consortia of major high tech firms (EarthLink and Google, IBM and Cisco) and four proposals from smaller firms and consortia. The EarthLink/Google proposal was selected as the winner. This initiative has achieved significant national and even international attention, largely because of San Francisco’s visibility in the high tech world, and the involvement of Google. While San Francisco’s wireless broadband initiative is an innovative approach to increasing broadband access for its residents, its underlying assumptions and strategies appear somewhat flawed. This paper analyzes the assumptions, the RFP and selection process, and compares them with municipal wireless initiatives in nearby Silicon Valley communities. The paper concludes with lessons and unresolved issues from the San Francisco experience relevant for other municipal broadband projects and for broadband community access in general.
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