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Hey Google: Hold Up on Wi-Fi By The Bay

When is free not a good deal? When it locks you into last year's technology. That's the argument some San Francisco activists are taking in protest of the City by the Bay's plan to offer free Wi-Fi access.

Last year Google and Earthlink won a joint bid to provide free Wi-Fi access to San Francisco but some want to put the clamps on the deal and start over.

"We're proposing both faster Wi-Fi and fiber access be part of the immediate plan," Eric Brooks, campaign coordinator for activist group Our City told internetnews.com. "We want to see the city install as much fiber as possible as well as Wi-Fi. But something faster than the 300 Kbps that's in the plan now or the 'cheap' 1 megabit paid option."

Our City joined a coalition of community groups called Public Net San Francisco, in calling for the current plan to be scrapped. As an alternative, the group wants the city to use extra capacity in its existing high speed fiber optic network as "the backbone to build a truly modern, fast, and free, public communications system. Public Net complains the deal gives Google/Earthlink a monopoly deal when a city-run operation could provide free Internet service at speeds at least ten times faster.

Google  already offers free Wi-Fi service in the city of Mountain View, Calif., home of its headquarters. In a statement e-mailed to internetnews.com, Google said fiber to the premises (FTTP) and Wi-Fi are not mutually exclusive connectivity issues:

"FTTP and WiFi do not supplant or compete with each other, but rather these technologies inherently serve to enhance and complement each other. Google is supportive of efforts to bring FTTP to San Francisco."

Brooks of Our City said he doesn't think a re-evaluation will delay widespread public access being implemented by more than a few months if at all. He already expects the Google/Earthlink implementation, which is now being tested, to be delayed because the project probably needs more wireless antennae than originally called for.

But even if there is a delay, due to a reassessment of higher speed options, Brooks said the potential benefit is worth it. "The last thing we want, with the entire Internet infrastructure moving to broadband fiber, is to set up something too soon that is too slow and puts San Francisco small and large businesses at a disadvantage with the rest of the world."