San Francisco calls for Wi-Fi proposals

City plans to start start negotiations next year

The City of San Francisco on Thursday issued an request for proposals (RFP) to build a citywide Wi-Fi network it hopes will provide free or affordable Internet access.

The RFP gives prospective network providers the specifications of the network so they can submit plans for meeting those guidelines. It also discusses contributions the network provider would make to other elements of San Francisco's TechConnect program, which includes affordable hardware, training and support and relevant content, according to a city statement. By issuing the RFP, the city kicked off a 60-day process to determine how it will meet the citywide wireless goal. The city plans to pick a proposal and start negotiations early next year. Proposals are due Feb. 21.

San Francisco is one of the largest cities in the U.S. pushing its own broadband initiative, a concept that has come under attack from some service providers and lawmakers. Opponents have argued that municipal network access programs are economically infeasible and unfair to private service providers. San Francisco's effort drew attention earlier this year when Google Inc. outlined a plan to deliver a network that would be free to both the city and users. It would be supported in part by advertising targeted at users' profiles and locations.

The citywide network could be municipally owned, privately owned, or a hybrid, according to the RFP. It calls for a network that is operated at no cost to the city and provides a "basic" level of access that is free to users. The network should also support premium services that could cost the user money.

The network would provide coverage outdoors across at least 95 percent of the city, with at least 1M bps (bit per second) for each user, the RFP says. The paper also calls for indoor coverage in many locations. It would have to support the WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) security protocols.

Third-party providers would be allowed to offer services over the network, the RFP says. In addition, users should be able to access content and use devices and applications of their choice, as long as they are legal. The city won't consider plans that include access and network upgrades only in more populated or commercially attractive areas, it said.

All prospective service providers would have to submit a privacy policy covering issues such as what personal information is collected about users and how that information is used. The RFP doesn't stipulate particular privacy rules.

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