Google Wants to Fund 31 Free Wi-Fi Hotspots Around SF


Imagine setting up lawn chairs on a sunny day at Mission Dolores Park, opening up your laptop and getting to work on the Internet with your co-workers. Or plopping down at Washington Square Park in North Beach, watching a few Segway tours roll by and reading the Wall Street Journal like it was intended to be read–on your iPad. Well, these images aren’t too foreign a concept to Google.

In case you haven't heard, that fantasy will soon be a reality–if all goes well. The Silicon Valley-based search giant is offering to contribute $600,000 to place 31 public Wi-Fi hotspots around San Francisco–a project that's already gotten most Yuppies (like me) brimming with excitement.

City officials selected 31 total locations out of San Francisco’s 200 public spaces based on economic and geographic criteria, according to the city’s parks director Phil Ginsburg. The hotspots that made the cut will include Dolores Park, Washington Square Park, Alamo Square Park, the historic Portsmouth Square in Chinatown and the Tenderloin Recreation Center, among others. Sites like the Golden Gate Park, home to such festivals as Outside Lands and Hardly Strictly Blue Grass, were too large to cover with the amount donated by Google.

This hasn’t been the tech giant’s first city-wide Wi-Fi venture. The company has helped build such free internet services in Boston’s South Station, New York’s Chelsea neighborhood and in its home city of Mountain View, Calif. But now it will turn its sights to San Francisco, which has just about eclipsed Silicon Valley as the Mecca of the startup ecosystem.  

“There are cities not only here in the U.S. but in many, many foreign countries where free Wi-Fi is ubiquitous. We have a lot of work to do,” said Mark Farrell, the head supervisor of the negotiations with Google.

Google’s executive Veronica Bell told the media that the free Wi-Fi service will be “a resource that the city and other local groups will be able to use in their efforts to bridge the digital divide and make their community stronger.”

The company will not manage the network. Instead, angel investor Ron Conway will spearhead the project through his non-profit SF.Citi. Google will, however, hope to benefit from the city’s increase in public internet use, specifically on its Gmail and web search services.

The project is still in its bureaucratic phase. The local board of supervisors has to formally approve the project, which will run through various service reviews and maintenance cost projections. Part of Google’s $600,000 offer will cover the first two years of upkeep and maintenance costs, but after that, the city will bear the expenses.

If the city approves this request, installation would begin as soon as December, with the completion date targeting mid-2014.

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