Area residents prefer regional over local Wi-Fi 

By nearly 2-to-1, Bay Area residents favor a regional wireless network rather than a collection of individual city and county Wi-Fi networks spread across the area, a new survey said.

The survey, commissioned by theBay Area Council, showed that 52 percent of the 600 residents questioned preferred a single network that residents around the Bay could tap into.

Twenty-eight percent said they’d like to see individual cities and counties provide blanket Wi-Fi access for their jurisdictions, such as those officials in The City are considering.

Los Angeles is working on plans for wireless Internet and has an advantage over the Bay Area, which has nine counties and 101 cities, said John Grubb, spokesman for the Bay Area Council, a business-oriented public policy advocacy group. In Silicon Valley, meanwhile, Peninsula cities are developing their own area-wide Wi-Fi network, now being tested in San Carlos.

"If there’s one thing and only one thing that we envy about Los Angeles it’s that they have a huge physical footprint served by one government body," Grubb said.

Grubb said the council was working with the "biggest companies" in the area — he couldn’t name names — on rolling out "something big" on a regional wireless effort.

"These polling results certainly point to the need for one network for the whole region," he said.

The survey found the number of residents using computers has stayed flat since 1999, when 79 percent said they used a PC at home, work or school. In 2007, that number is 81 percent.

The survey, conducted by Field Research Corporation during the second week of January this year, also detected a "digital divide" in the Bay Area — a link between Internet and computer use and income levels.

Of individuals making more than $80,000, 97 percent regularly use a computer whether at work or home, but just 62 percent of those earning less than $40,000 do the same. Similarly, 95 percent of those in the top income group access the Internet, compared with 52 percent in the lower income bracket.

Ray Hartz Jr., a 57-year-old resident of The City and manager at Barnes & Noble who took part in the survey, said having a regionwide Wi-Fi network would be beneficial, allowing every resident to access the Internet if they had a computer.

Computers need to be recycled like hearing aids or eyeglasses to provide people with the best chance of accessing the educational, social or professional opportunities the Internet provides, Hartz Jr. said.

"Having it available for everybody would be a great equalizer," Hartz Jr. said.


SURVEY SAYS: TECHNOLOGY IN THE BAY AREA

Here are some of the survey results regarding use of technology in the Bay Area during recent years.

Time spent online

Bay Area residents were asked how many hours they spent online during a typical week. On average, they spent 16 hours per week on the Internet in 2007, up from 11 hours in 1999.

»Average number of hours a Bay Area resident spent online in a typical week:

1999 - 11 hours
2000 - 14 hours
2001 - 11 hours
2002 - 12 hours
2003 - 14 hours
2004 - 14 hours
2005 - N/A
2006 - 15 hours
2007 - 16 hours

Time spent at the computer

Residents were asked how many total hours they spent at their computers each week, on average, during 2007.

»Less than 5 hours
San Francisco County - 21%
San Mateo County - 20%
Bay Area - 26%

»5-9 hours
San Francisco County - 22%
San Mateo County - 20%
Bay Area - 19%

»10-19 hours
San Francisco County - 17%
San Mateo County - 31%
Bay Area - 25%

»20-29 hours
San Francisco County - 18%
San Mateo County - 8%
Bay Area - 10%

»30-39 hours
San Francisco County - 18%
San Mateo County - 8%
Bay Area - 10%

City, county or Bay Area Wi-Fi

The majority of residents who responded to the survey preferred a Bay Area wireless Internet network over a city- or county-built Wi-Fi network. 

» Prefer city/county networks
San Francisco County - 26%
San Mateo County - 25%
Bay Area - 28%

» Prefer regionwide network
San Francisco County - 53%
San Mateo County - 55%
Bay Area - 52%

Examples of Digital Divide

» Ninety-seven percent of people with an income more than $80,000 regularly use a computer and just 62 percent of those with an income lower than $40,000 use a personal computer.

» Ninety-five percent of residents in that top income bracket access the Internet while only 52 percent of those making less than $40,000 a year do.

Source: Bay Area Council

dsmith@examiner.com

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