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SF's Google-Earthlink quagmire deepens

Key vote delayed

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San Francisco's bid to work with Google and EarthLink to provide city-wide WiFi access has faced another setback, as supervisors opted to delay a key vote.

The 6-5 decision is the latest obstacle Mayor Newsom has faced over the past few weeks. First, his affair with the wife of a trusted aide spilled onto the front pages of local newspapers. Then, in short order, he revealed he is seeking help for a drinking problem. Now, his plan to blanket the city's hilly, 49-square-mile terrain is facing more flack from opponents.

The delays come the same week that Los Angeles and Houston announced they planned to build similar services. Some 250 US cities in all offer or plan to offer city-wide net access.

(Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in announcing his city's plans yesterday, bragged the network would be the largest in the US. He quickly backtracked after Houston pointed out that 600 square miles is greater than 400 square miles.)

Newsom would gladly suffer such blunders if only he could get a little love. After all, his intentions are honorable. He wants to bridge the digital divide and help school children and working poor to get onto the internet for the first time. What the populist mayor hasn't yet figured out is that the free service he's proposing is a paltry 300Kbps. That's barely enough to chat on Skype or upload and consume videos. Critics charge Newsom's plan is a thinly veiled attempt to balkanize San Francisco's destitute to a new sort of ghetto.

The Supervisors' vote will delay until March 20 a proposal to thoroughly study the feasibility of San Francisco operating its own broadband network. The vote is a sign that more delays are likely to come. ®

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