San Francisco, Philly, and Silicon Valley Muni WiFi

Two part story here. Firstly, a group led by Intel and civic groups like the San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority plan to RFP a “Smart Valley” Muni Wireless network to cover all of Silicon Valley including coverage up to Hayward and down to Santa Cruz. That’s an ambitiously large area, but the linked article in CIO argues that, “Similar efforts to build wireless networks in Philadelphia and San Francisco have been successful.” Well, that just wrong. Sounds like the CIO reporter swallowed the spin from a corporate backer of the so-called “Smart Valley” project. Truth is, it’s way too early to declare success for either the Philly or SF Muni WiFi networks.

Part 2 – A quick update on Philly and SF. Philly seems to have taken the time, spoken to the community groups and stakeholders, had open review cycles, and educated themselves enough to put together a strong RFP that defined minimum service levels, guaranteed service to poor residents, and demanded something in return of the vendor who would be granted a virtual monopoly. Earthlink ended up with the winning bid. Total Telecom, yesterday, offered the news that Philly’s “…Deployment to start in spring 2007.” Start in 2007?? What Where did 2006 go? Meanwhile, San Francisco went the opposite route, with a poorly fleshed out RFP which was leaked to the public in December. The mayor’s office held mostly closed RFP sessions, shutting out stakeholders. In the end, the RFP doesn’t seem to address the needs of the poor, minimum throughputs, minimum coverage, nor define premium services or advertising guidelines. Tech-savvy community groups are concerned that the RFP is too weak, and that it is a vanity project of the mayor that is giving too much to a backroom front-runner (Google). So of the two, Philly is clearly on a better, albeit slow, path. The SF process sounds like a SNAFU. As for the CIO article, it’s hardly responsible reporting to use the past tense to say “Similar efforts to build wireless networks in Philadelphia and San Francisco have been successful.”

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