Friday, May 05, 2006

Google won't do Silicon Valley Wi-Fi

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 confirmed Thursday.

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

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, said 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 said he isn't disappointed that it won't join in. The search company has been helpful and shared information with the task force, he said.

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

"What we're offering the vendors is, in some ways, a blank slate," Fearey said. "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 said.

The task force hopes to find one vendor to build and operate the whole network, though at an estimated capital cost of more than US$200 million, it may take multiple providers covering different parts of the region, Fearey acknowledged. 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 organization hopes to work out a deal with nonprofit One Economy Corp. to provide for client hardware and technology education for residents who don't yet have broadband, Fearey said.

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

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