SF Picks Google, Earthlink for Wi-Fi

A San Francisco city panel yesterday identified a joint effort by Google and Earthlink as the best bet for establishing city-wide Wi-Fi service within the city. The high-profile project will carry an estimated price tag of $15 million; San Francisco can now begin negotiations with the companies over the details of the plan, although any effort would need the approval of the Board of Supervisors before it can go forward.

Google is currently testing more than 300 access points it has installed, and says that it has no plans to become a network provider outside of San Francisco and the Mountain View area. According to Google, they will essentially be a customer on the Earthlink network, buying bandwidth from Earthlink and planning to give away 300Kbps access for free in an advertising-subsidized Wi-Fi service.

Earthlink envisions offering $20/month Wi-Fi service within San Francisco at speeds up to 1.5 Mbps. Google’s free service would make San Francisco the largest U.S. city with free border-to-border Wi-Fi service. Philadelphia is also rolling out municipal Wi-Fi (again, via Earthlink), but the service will be fee-based. Other large cities moving aggressively on city-wide Wi-Fi include Chicago and Minneapolis.