Google Steps into S.F. Wi-Fi Contest

Search giant Google and ISP EarthLink have joined a group of companies bidding to construct and support a wireless network that will provide low-cost Internet access to residents of San Francisco.

A partnership between search giant Google and ISP EarthLink has been added to the list of names bidding to create a universal wireless network for the city of San Francisco that will offer free and low-cost Internet access to area residents.

San Francisco officials released their final list of organizations that have submitted bids to build and support the citys much anticipated Wi-Fi network, which includes six individual proposals counting the Google-EarthLink offer.

Other bids include a submission from an effort known as SF Metro Connect, which is spearheaded by Cisco, IBM and wireless specialists SeaKay, as well as proposals from Communication Bridge Global, MetroFi, NextWLAN and Razortooth Communications.

City officials indicated that a review panel will begin evaluating the proposals and hopes to make its decisions regarding the citywide Wi-Fi network by early April, at which time the San Francisco Department of Telecommunications and Information Services will enter into negotiations with the winning bidder.

The effort was launched as part of Mayor Gavin Newsoms TechConnect initiative to provide all San Franciscans, especially low-income families and residents of disadvantaged communities, with equal access to the Web.

"Affordable Internet that is accessible to all San Franciscans regardless of geography or income is simply essential," Newsom said in a statement.

"We must recognize that access to information is a fundamental government service akin to libraries or public schools."

The Google-EarthLink pairing seems an unlikely marriage as the firms had previously announced independent plans to bid for the San Francisco Wi-Fi deal, with Google proposing a completely free network and EarthLink supporting a paid-access model.

Under the joint bid, city residents would gain free dial-up Internet access and pay $20 per month for higher speeds. EarthLink has won a similar deal to build a network in Philadelphia.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about plans for Wi-Fi in Philadelphia.

With growing demand for wireless Internet access from consumers and the belief by politicians that citywide networks can help improve delivery of local services, a number of cities around the globe are in the process of planning or constructing new Wi-Fi networks.

For instance, in London, city officials are preparing to turn on a Wi-Fi network in the next several months, built by U.K. wireless firm The Cloud.

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