San Francisco picks Google, Earthlink for Wi-Fi plan

San Francisco has chosen Google and Earthlink to provide citywide WiFi.

Google Inc. has come another step closer in its quest to become a Wi-Fi wireless LAN service provider in San Francisco.

City officials have chosen a plan by Google and Internet service provider Earthlink Inc. to provide a citywide Wi-Fi network, a spokesman in the city's communications department confirmed Wednesday.

San Francisco's plan to provide Wi-Fi to its residents has been the target of much media attention, particularly because search giant Google has lobbied hard and publicly for the contract. The company even provided free Wi-Fi access in its home city of Mountain View, California, as a testing ground for the proposed San Francisco project.

Google and Earthlink's plan had for some time been viewed as the front-runner as San Francisco officials reviewed request for proposals (RFPs) for its plan to provide Wi-Fi service to the city's residents. The city requested RFPs for the plan, which calls for high-speed wireless Internet access that would be available outdoors virtually throughout the city and in most rooms indoors, last December.

Google and Earthlink -- which decided to team up instead of bid against each other for the plan -- now will enter negotiations with the city to finalize the details of the deal. Google and Earthlink have said they would foot the bill for the cost of the network and will be responsible for building it.

According to their plan, the companies will offer two wireless Internet services -- a free, ad-supported service from Google, and an Earthlink for-fee service that allows users to surf the Internet at speeds faster than Google's service.

Like other U.S. cities mulling Wi-Fi plans, San Francisco is pushing wireless in hopes of generating economic activity, bridging the "digital divide" between those who can and can't afford traditional broadband, and improving city government and public safety communications in the bargain.

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