San Frans Wi-Fi Plan Includes Ads

News Analysis: San Francisco's plan for citywide Wi-Fi comes with a catch. Users will have to put up with ads for premium service under the bid submitted by Google-EarthLink.

On April 6, the city of San Francisco announced it will pursue the bid presented by EarthLink and Google to provide citywide Wi-Fi services for residents and visitors alike. While the joint proposal offers both paid and free tiers of service, what is painfully obvious is that advertising will play a significant role for both options.

The free service promises 300K bps of best-effort throughput, made possible by location-based advertisements delivered via various Google technologies. But, as we understand the public version of EarthLink and Googles response to San Franciscos RFP (request for proposal), we should expect ads if we pay for the premium service as well.

The premium service—which promises up to 1M-bps throughput (also best-effort, so no promises)—will use captive portal pages to identify and authenticate users.

These pages will also "provide opportunities to place advertising content," said the RFP response.

My favorite part, on Page 54 of the RFP response (emphasis is mine): "Typically, EarthLink does not support advertising for any illegal goods or services," followed by, "EarthLink also does not anticipate supporting intrusive advertisement vehicles such as certain rich media advertising and pop up advertising."

Weve all become accustomed to the ever-encroaching presence of advertising in our lives. Often to take advantage of the notion of "free," we will begrudgingly let it happen.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about the Wi-Fi providers courting smaller communities.

However, weve also been trained to accept advertising in that for which we already pay—whether it be a ticket to the local multiplex or that DVD we just bought.

EarthLink is leveraging that training, pushing the limits of what we will accept. While the text of the response goes on to indicate that EarthLink will work with the city of San Francisco to determine what types of advertising are appropriate, the garage door has been left open to new and as-of-yet unspecified advertisements down the road.

We just need to drive on in.

Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at

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