After a long period of negotiations, the city of San Francisco recently agreed to a deal with EarthLink and Google to develop and deploy a municipal wireless network. However, the contract still needs to be approved by the city council, and an EarthLink executive has been quoted as saying that approval is not a guarantee.
Don Berryman, EarthLink's head of its municipal networks division, said that as far as he can see, out of the six votes needed for the contract to be ratified, there are at least four and possibly five council members he believes will vote for the deal. He believes three are against it, and another three to four who are undecided.
Berryman believes that there is opposition to the deal by some city supervisors because they believe the city should be the rightful owners of the network, and not an outside company. In response, Berryman is out gathering public support for the project, and Mayor Gavin Newsom, a strong, early supporter of citywide wireless, is also lending a hand.
Although Berryman may be overstating the case when it comes to the level of opposition to the network, there is still some cause for concern. There have been issues regarding user privacy, and no one knows yet with any certainty as to whether citywide wireless networks will prove beneficial economically and socially for a given municipality.
In any event, the contract is up for a vote in February, and it appears that the motion will pass. There is too much momentum at this point for muni WiFi, and it would be considered an embarrassment for San Francisco, one of the technology bellwethers in the U.S., to turn down the opportunity to get into the wireless network game.