Or should it be focusing on long-term strategies that will give the city more control over the resources its citizens need — from electricity to information technology — without having to depend on the profit-driven private sector?
The DTIS announced the commencement of the municipal broadband study during a little-noticed public meeting Aug. 15, during which a dozen or so of the most committed activists, representatives for Comcast (which aggressively opposes most municipal broadband initiatives), and downtown building owners heard from the consultants.
CTC founder and principal analyst Joanne Howis outlined the scope of her firm's study and sang the praises of what's known in her industry as Fiber to the Premises (FTTP), noting that it's the most reliable, high-capacity broadband technology and that the price of delivering it to people's homes has fallen tremendously in recent years, to the point where it's the best all-around broadband delivery system.
"Fiber is better, and wholly controlled fiber is better still," she said. "That's an article of faith with us."
Later, activists pushed the point on wireless versus fiber. "Fiber can do many of the things wireless can't do, but it can't go mobile," Howis said, also noting that fiber is essential to a reliable public safety system. "Fiber and wireless speak to different needs and are used in different ways."
But when asked what's better for residential users, she said, "Anyone who can have fiber or wireless to their homes will choose fiber."
"Unless it's free," Roberts interjected.
But public interest media advocates like Media Alliance say the city is going about this backward. The group has been critical of the city's wireless plans and has studied the potential for municipal fiber, arguing in the just-released report "Is Publicly Owned Information Infrastructure a Wise Public Investment for San Francisco?" that the city could pay for its investment within five years and make $2 million per year thereafter by leasing space on the network. So all sides are happy to see the fiber study finally moving forward.
"We met with a lot of resistance to the study, but the good thing was we got the money for the study from the Mayor's Office," Ammiano told the Guardian. "While I'm disappointed that it's taken so long, I'm heartened that it's now moving."
Meanwhile, Google last week got a free citywide wireless system up and running in its native Mountain View. The system is faster than the free service it intends to offer to San Franciscans, who will have to pay a bit more if they want anything faster than the targeted average speed of 300 kilobytes per second.
"Google is putting up a lot of money to make the service free in San Francisco," Chris Sacca, who is heading up the project for Google, told the Guardian. He estimated that the company has spent over $1 million to develop the San Francisco plan.
While the fiber study will analyze the benefits to the city itself, Sacca said the wireless proposal began with consumer demand. "At Google we start with the end-user problem, then work backward from there." SFBG
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