Editorial: Progress at hand on Wi-Fi effort 

As the second hand sweeps around our timepieces, we’re reminded that when the week began Mayor Gavin Newsom gleefully chirped that a deal to bring free wireless Internet to The City was just "seconds away." Let’s just be grateful the mayor’s promise, after 10 months in negotiation, at least has an estimated time of arrival.

The deal Mayor Newsom has in mind would allow Internet heavyweights Google and Earthlink, as a consortium, to gain exclusive rights to envelop our 49 square miles in their proprietary Wi-Fi system. That would mean laptop users anywhere in San Francisco, indoors or out, could e-mail or surf the Web free of charge.

Who could complain? Instant access to the world’s knowledge liberates us as individuals, no matter our disciplines or enterprises, and it could bring to The City powerful economic clout worldwide. Google and Earthlink profit from advertising and other revenue-generating formulae, and we think that’s a fair trade for the informational enrichment they provide.

Some people, no doubt ideologically allergic to anything associated with "profit" or "private enterprise," have begun to carp that one of the revenue streams contemplated by the consortium would be to charge for premium, high-speed service. Impatient residents could choose to pay, say, $20 for something faster than the 300 kilobits per second given to everyone.

Already we’ve heard charges that the prospective premium rate amounts to an unfair slap at folks who don’t have an extra Ben Franklin to spend for upgraded service. But ideologues always define fairness idiosyncratically, a show of ingratitude for a service not otherwise available.

Oh, excuse us. Some of these critics, such as Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, imagine that the municipality itself possesses the technological wisdom and capability to do the non-pareil work of Google and Earthlink. But a city-owned Wi-Fi provider — not to mention being slow to adapt to technological advances — would not be financed in creative, entrepreneurial ways. It would be supported strictly by taxation, which means forcing people who may not want it to pay for it. Now, there’s a real definition of unfairness.

The ideologues worry that pleading for service from the Wi-FI consortium will be like dealing with the cable company, which is unlikely. Perhaps they’d prefer dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

One caveat: Though public-private partnerships often take us past primitive and nonadaptive socialism, by sparing taxpayers and introducing capitalistic efficiencies, they can become too politically cozy. They can coercively bar competitors.

We applaud the mayor for resisting a half-baked municipal plan, but we do wish he’d found a way to open the market to other Wi-Fi providers, which some techies think feasible. Still, if the political alternatives are the Google/Earthlink deal or some Putin-like effort to seize the Wi-Fi industry for the people of San Francisco, residents should not hesitate to press for the former.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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