Free Wi-Fi in SF public spaces now on track for launch next month 

click to enlarge Wireless networks are being set up in 31 public locations — parks, recreation centers and plazas — throughout San Francisco. Access will be free thanks to $600,000 from Google. - MIKE KOOZMIN/2013 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • mike koozmin/2013 s.f. examiner file photo
  • Wireless networks are being set up in 31 public locations — parks, recreation centers and plazas — throughout San Francisco. Access will be free thanks to $600,000 from Google.

A year ago, San Francisco received a $600,000 gift from Google to establish free wireless Internet service in at least 31 public parks, plazas and recreation centers. While city officials pledged to have the service launch as early as this spring, it is yet to be up and running.

But city officials say that the wireless installation is ongoing and on track to officially launch next month with a ribbon-cutting ceremony being planned by Supervisor Mark Farrell, who announced the Google gift last year.

It's a bit later than promised by Farrell, whose office issued a press statement at the time stating: "The installation of free Wi-Fi is expected to begin December 2013, and all 31 sites are expected to be fully completed and ready for use by San Francisco's residents and visitors by Spring 2014."

No one who spoke with The San Francisco Examiner could explain the specific reasons for the delay.

"This was how long it took to do it right," Miguel Gamino, the recently named acting director of the Department of Technology, said Monday. "I don't know what the assumptions were at the time."

He noted that in general, there are various challenges to getting a Wi-Fi connection on the ground -- most of the sites are connected to fiber-optic networks -- including finding the correct places to install the wireless access points, and testing the efficiency of the network.

"Things are going well," Gamino said. "I'm not aware of any major catastrophe that we faced."

In July, after about a year on the job, Marc Touitou, the head of San Francisco's Department of Technology, resigned, taking a position as the chief information officer for the United Nations' World Health Organization based in Switzerland.

Currently, the wireless service is being tested in at least 10 of the selected locations. They include: Gene Friend Recreation Center, Joseph Lee Recreation Center, Mission Recreation Center, Palega Recreation Center, Union Square, Tenderloin Recreation Center, Harvey Milk Recreation Center, Bernal Recreation Center, St. Mary's Recreation Center and Sunset Recreation Center.

In a statement Monday, Farrell said, "My office is actively working with our Department of Technology to complete the project and look forward to residents and visitors accessing free Wi-Fi. We expect all 31 locations to be fully functional and ready for use in September."

However, two of the selected parks, which are both under construction, will have to wait a little longer -- Mission Dolores and Boeddeker Park. Once construction wraps up, it would take up to 30 days to have them go live, Gamino said.

Free wireless service was promised throughout San Francisco seven years ago, but technology provider Earthlink, in partnership with Google, bowed out of the deal amid political infighting and disagreements over the proposal. Now city officials are re-energizing the effort.

It comes as Mayor Ed Lee is promoting the technology industry as the anchor of the local economy, with startups and new apps popping up seemingly every day, making the lack of free public Wi-Fi even more glaring to some critics.

In December, The City announced the launch of a free public wireless network along Market Street from the Castro to The Embarcadero, paid for from a $700,000 gift of hardware from Bay Area-based Ruckus Wireless.

City officials hope to keep building on the momentum of these wireless projects with the aim of blanketing The City with a seamless municipal service.

"It's not over," Gamino said. "This is a step."

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