A few years ago San Francisco publicly squandered its chance for a citywide system, but the Department of Technology, in partnership with other agencies, has been installing free Internet in spots every since. Currently there are dozens of public hotspots, mostly located around low-income communities, parks, hospitals and libraries.
While previous efforts to install the Wi-Fi have basically gone unnoticed (possibly because it has been done a block at a time up until now), residents, businesses and visitors are likely to notice the next installment, which will take place along one of San Francisco’s most prominent commercial corridors: Market Street.
San Francisco’s acting Chief Information Officer Jon Walton said, “We want anybody walking up and down the street, sitting in the park or having a cup of coffee, to be able to hop onto the network and use it.”
A few years back, Google and EarthLink agreed to provide San Francisco with free Wi-Fi service, however the plan fell through amid political infighting, concerns about privacy and financial problems at EarthLink. Additional efforts have flopped around the country as well because of a combination of political, economical or technical reasons. Despite these setbacks, Walton believes the patchwork approach, which sidesteps much of the political drama, will eventually lead to the same result. Improvements in technology and declining prices are also helping cities to get closer to their goal of access for all.
“Free public Wi-Fi is an idea that will happen,” Walton said. “It’s a question of when, not if.”
San Francisco’s network is a basic, open Wi-Fi system (users will see: SFGov_Free_WiFi). The city doesn’t monitor use, block sites or require accounts.
For those still concerned about privacy, Walton insists that it’s no more or less secure than any open Internet signal, so users should exercise common-sense discretion about the sites they visit and information they enter. For example, it’s never a good idea to enter any online banking information over public Wi-Fi. Walton also said that the system is not tied to the city’s network, so it shouldn’t raise security concerns for law enforcement and other departments.
In addition to the Market Street upgrades, San Francisco has plans to restore public Wi-Fi access at Union Square and add hotspots along parts of Golden Gate Park, the Mission Street corridor and additional libraries and open spaces. Locations are chosen based on cost efficiency and demand (residents can add suggestions at sfgov.org/wifi). The city has an online map of Wi-Fi sites available to the public which you can access here.
The Market Street rollout is expected to begin in December and to be completed around the end of March.
Source: San Francisco Gate