As many people know, our mayor decided that we should all have free wi-fi in the city last year, so a team formed to put together a request for proposals and solict bids. Unfortunately, most of these meetings were in secret, with “anonymous” participants, no records were kept of these meetings and now top contenders have been chosen as finalists — big names like Earthlink and Google.
Last friday was the first half of city hearings, where supervisors did their best to find out how these decisions were made and why; I watched the hearings and was surprised to watch supervisors cross-examine the guy in charge of the project, make him sweat and sigh and look like a criminal trying to remember who was in these meetings, how decisions were made and why some of the participants needed to remain anonymous (this question was not answered to any satisfaction). Here is the ACLU, EPIC and EFF’s letter to Chris A. Vein, the Acting Executive Director at SF’s Department of Telecommunications and Information Services.
It was like watching our supervisors try to figure out why we’d negotiate a Hetch Hetchy water deal with Coke; and if the wi-fi panel continues in the direction it’s going, our citywide wi-fi will be the equivalent of drinking all our clean water in Dasani bottles. Their plans and implementation ideas are weak: the kind of corporate wi-fi we’d get would track users, have antiquated bandwidth (unless we want to pay to upgrade), would have questionable coverage (hello, Hunter’s Point?), has no emergency backup system planned for disasters (uh, didn’t we just have some kind of anniversary a while ago…) and would give no city control over the wi-fi. No municipality is bad. I also found it curious and disturbing that one of the top contenders, Earthlink, is owned by Scientologists. (interstingly, I received two private offlist emails about this from people with one saying ,”I actually went to a private scientology school with sky dayton.”) One responsible way to select contenders would be to copy Philadelphia’s model: 5 vendors demonstrate on 1 square mile (and not Union Square — try Bayview where it’s needed); after that a vendor demos on 15 miles before any contract is signed, and making them all answer to questions about privacy, security, disaster preparedness and coverage.
Anyway, the second set of hearings are this afternoon. Be a dork like me and tune in if you can; watch them on cable channel 26 or online at SVgov (select SGTV and hope it works). The hearing starts at 1, but the wi-fi is last on the agenda; last week it started roughly around 3pm. More information is forthcoming on Webnetic: San Francisco Techconnect – Stop the backroom deal, let the people speak.
Image: crazy people on a rooftop near you.