Google won’t buy into Silicon Valley wi-fi project

Google won't bid to build a proposed wireless network across Silicon Valley - beyond the bounds of its San Francisco project. Stephen Lawson reports.

Google is steering clear of a wireless competition to cover a large region just outside its planned San Francisco wi-fi project, a company spokeswoman says.

The Mountain View, California, company won’t respond to an RFP (Request for Proposals) issued by the Wireless Silicon Valley Task Force, Google’s Megan Quinn says. EarthLink, in Atlanta, its partner in the San Francisco plan, is still examining the Silicon Valley opportunity, EarthLink spokesman Jerry Grasso says.

The task force, backed by city and county governments all around Silicon Valley and surrounding Google’s hometown, is seeking one or more vendors to finance and build a wireless network that would go into service by early next year. Mountain View, which has a city wi-fi network provided by Google, isn’t participating, but the task force is hoping to set up interoperability with that network, says Seth Fearey, project lead and coordinator for the Silicon Valley project.

Although the task force would like to have a local company such as Google participate in the regional project, Fearey says he isn’t disappointed that it won’t join in. The search company has been helpful and shared information with the task force, he says.

As envisioned by the task force, the network would stretch from San Francisco’s city limits in the north down to Santa Cruz, an area of about 1,500 square miles. The RFP, for which responses are due by June 30, doesn’t prescribe any particular technology.

“What we’re offering the vendors is, in some ways, a blank slate,” Fearey says. “We’re telling them ... ‘Design the ultimate wireless network, and you don’t have to worry about political boundaries’.” The system could include mobile wireless technologies, including cellular, and even low-power systems such as ZigBee, for functions such as monitoring a water pump, he says.

The task force hopes to find one vendor to build and operate the whole network. But, at an estimated capital cost of more than US$200 million (NZ$317 million), it may take multiple providers covering different parts of the region, Fearey says. The network as envisioned would provide a free service, possibly advertising-supported, plus higher-quality paid offerings and services for governments and public safety agencies. It would be funded by the primary vendor, which would sell access wholesale to other service providers.

Low-income residents would be served by the free service, and the organisation hopes to work out a deal with non-profit organisation One Economy to provide for client hardware, and for technology education for residents who don’t yet have broadband, Fearey says.

Once a contract is hammered out, each city will have to approve it and may work out changes with the provider, Fearey says. But he is confident “the great majority” will buy into the final plan. The entire network will be managed and overseen by an independent body, with participation by individual governments, he says.

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