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Google wins SF wireless gig

Who would have guessed?

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Google has won the contract to operate San Francisco's municipal wireless network, in conjunction with Earthlink.

San Francisco's mayor Gavin Newsom has described Wi-Fi as "a basic human right" - sort of like gay marriage, but for nerds.

It's a two-tier service, with a free low-speed service available at street level - and if you're lucky, in parts of your apartment - and a faster version available for a tariff of $20 per month. Google and Earthlink beat out bids from Razortooth, NextWLAN, and a consortium including IBM and Cisco, in a final shortlist of six. Incumbent operators including Cingular had been in the initial longlist of over 20 bids.

Google won a bid to operate a Wi-Fi network in its home town of Mountain View last year.

Google had been touted as a favorite for the contract long before revelations of San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom's close relationship to the internet advertising company. Google wooed the ambitious, limelight loving Mayor closely, inviting him to board their chartered jet to Davos, where they laid on a chauffer; offered holiday weekends, and even campaign contributions.

Newsom reciprocated with invitations to civic functions.

"I sure as heck don't need Google for San Francisco to succeed," said Newsom, in response to the report, before deciding that after all, perhaps he did.

The process behind the SF bid became mired in controversy, with the city obscuring the mechanics from the kind of scrutiny city contracts typically undergo because of 'Sunshine legislation'. Initial specifications were vague and the composition of the panel choosing the winner was a secret until a fortnight ago.

Google has denied its municipal bids are part of a wider infrastructure ploy. It wants to experiment with its core advertising business, Google's Chris Sacca told a conference last week, particularly with location based advertising.

So there's no escape. ®

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