City Unsure Which San Franciscans Would Get Google Internet Coverage

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We want it ... but we don't know where to put it
As noted yesterday, San Francisco publicized its full application to enter the Google fiber network sweepstakes, which has taken on something of a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket feel -- but with delicious Google fiber instead of chocolate. 

San Francisco is one of hundreds of cities vying for Google to build it a free internet service as a demonstration the Mountain View behemoth's fledgling technology is economically feasible. One hitch, though: Google's rules call for cities with populations of 50,000 to 500,000. So, as San Francisco niftily manages in its application, it slices the city's population down to 450,000 and square mileage to 26.

Fair enough: As noted in our earlier stories, since San Francisco is too populous to enter as a a single entity, it hopes to enter several neighborhoods. So, which neighborhoods? No one knows. "No neighborhoods have been chosen. We just wanted to acknowledge that we would have to choose and the total would not exceed 450,000 in population," said Brian Roberts, the San Francisco Department of Technology's senior policy analyst.

Interestingly, while the population and square mileage listed on the application are truncated, the number of jobs San Franciscans hold is not. In the section asking for details about San Francisco's economy, the city filled in the numbers for its full 808,000-person population.

To be fair, there wasn't much else the city could do; it couldn't begin to estimate what percentage of workers work where when it doesn't even know what portions of the city it would open up to a Google network.

If San Francisco makes the next cut of Google's competition, says Supervisor David Chiu, then it will have to start marking up a map and deciding who would get free service and who wouldn't.

The city "Would identify the portion of San Francisco most in need of help in crossing the digital divide as part of the subsequent proposal," said Chiu, a tech maven who authored a unanimously approved resolution urging the city to enter Google's contest.

Of course, a pertinent question to ask is if San Francisco's got a chance in hell of making that cut. Our mayor didn't swim with sharks and we didn't change the name of the city to "Google." What we did do, however, is enrage the Google people by putting the brakes on a free Wi-Fi offer three years ago

"I'm sure Google probably has some institutional memory of some of the issues that came up," said Chiu, when asked to gauge the city's chance of making the next round. Had he been in government three years ago, Chiu says, "I'd have worked very hard to try to craft the deal to make things happen." But, he reminds, Google's partner in the free Wi-Fi endeavor, Earthlink, went under only a few weeks after the San Francisco proposition floundered.

"Oftentimes the Board of Supervisors gets the blame for what happened there," says Chiu. "The real story is, Earthlink didn't have the capacity to follow through on that."

That's probably not a worry with Google.

Photo (and Lego work)   |   Gayle Laakmann

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