San Francisco officially launches free wireless service in 32 public spaces 

click to enlarge Supervisor Mark Farrell’s free Wi-Fi program — which makes wireless Internet service available at 32 parks, plazas and open spaces across San Francisco — will begin today. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • mike koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • Supervisor Mark Farrell’s free Wi-Fi program — which makes wireless Internet service available at 32 parks, plazas and open spaces across San Francisco — will begin today.

San Francisco is officially rolling out free Wi-Fi service in 32 public parks and recreation centers today, in a step toward a larger vision of making Internet service for residents a right and not a luxury.

Funded through a $600,000 gift from Google to The City last year, the Department of Technology spent the past year installing and testing the networks that city officials say are ready for prime time.

"Internet access should be viewed in today's world as an economic right, and the launch of this program is a first step in that direction," said Supervisor Mark Farrell, who initially reached out to Google to help with the effort. "Without a doubt, it is part of a broader vision of providing Internet access for all San Franciscans."

Seven years ago, a deal to blanket The City with free Wi-Fi fell apart.

Benefits of the free Wi-Fi service include expanding programs utilizing the service at recreation centers, improving registration for public programs and boosting communication among city employees. It also begins to address what may seem like a glaring absence in a city that likes to bill itself as a center for technology and innovation.

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.

One of the 32 public spaces that are part of the latest effort is Boeddeker Park, a 1-acre city-owned park in the Tenderloin. Currently under a major renovation, the park will re-open in November and have the Wi-Fi network established about 30 days later.

click to enlarge This map shows the 32 public spaces across San Francisco that are launching new free wireless Internet service. - COURTESY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
  • Courtesy Board of Supervisors
  • This map shows the 32 public spaces across San Francisco that are launching new free wireless Internet service.

Jennifer Isacoff, the Bay Area director for the Trust for Public Land's Parks for People, which is leading the park upgrade, said that Wi-Fi is on the list of modern amenities that people in the community want in their public spaces. She said that during the design phase, they had a focus group of teenagers and when asked what would make them go to the park, one teenager said, plainly, Wi-Fi.

Another park undergoing work is Mission Dolores, which will also have the service once those upgrades are completed.

The service was initially scheduled to go live in the spring, but testing and installation took longer than expected.

Miguel Gamino, acting director of the Department of Technology, said The City is currently assessing all its existing wireless networks, such as the public libraries and museums, and transitioning them to one uniform identification name: #SFWiFi. He said this effort helps build the brand and makes the public service more accessible to users.

Farrell said he was most excited by the fact that today's service launch is "bridging the digital divide."

"Internet access is no longer a luxury or nice-to-have item," he said.

That divide is currently being analyzed by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, after a July 15 request by Supervisor Eric Mar.

"From access to public services to helping children accomplish their schoolwork, we all depend on fast and reliable Internet access," Mar said at the time. "There are many, many people that don't have that access."

It's unclear when the report will be completed.

Mayor Ed Lee, who will join Farrell in making the announcement today at the Tenderloin Recreation Center, said "this project is a top priority for my administration because of the endless benefits that free Wi-Fi will bring to the residents and visitors of San Francisco."

As of Tuesday, the average baseline performance at the public spaces was 10-15 megabits per second download and 7-10 Mbps upload. However, The City did say some locations are seeing download speeds as high as 30 Mbps.

The network is being monitored around the clock for performance issues.

Public spaces with free Wi-Fi

1. ALAMO SQUARE

2. BALBOA PARK

3. BERNAL HEIGHTS RECREATION CENTER

4. BOEDDEKER PARK

5. CHINESE RECREATION CENTER

6. CIVIC CENTER PLAZA

7. CORONA HEIGHTS

8. CROCKER AMAZON PLAYGROUND

9. DUBOCE PARK

10. EUREKA VALLEY REC CENTER

11. GENE FRIEND REC CENTER/SOMA

12. HAMILTON REC CENTER

13. HUNTINGTON PARK

14. JOSEPH LEE RECREATION CENTER

15. JUSTIN HERMAN PLAZA

16. MARGARET HAYWARD

17. MARINA GREEN

18. MINNIE & LOVIE WARD REC CENTER

19. MISSION DOLORES PARK

20. MISSION REC CENTER

21. PALEGA RECREATION CENTER

22. PORTSMOUTH SQUARE

23. RICHMOND RECREATION CENTER

24. ST MARY'S PLAYGROUND

25. ST MARY'S SQUARE

26. SUE BIERMAN PARK

27. SUNNYSIDE PLAYGROUND

28. SUNSET PLAYGROUND

29. TENDERLOIN CHILDREN'S REC CENTER

30. UNION SQUARE

31. UPPER NOE RECREATION CENTER

32. WASHINGTON SQUARE

** MISSION DOLORES PARK and BOEDDEKER PARK are currently under construction, Wi-Fi installation at these locations will resume once construction is complete.

Source: Board of Supervisors

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