By Matt Hamblen
Five companies recently filed preliminary proposals to build and operate a massive $1.9 billion public-private fiber to the premises broadband network in San Francisco, Mayor Mark Farrell told attendees at a technology conference on Wednesday.
Farrell called the five responses to the city’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ) encouraging. The city didn’t release the names of the companies.
An RFQ is an early step in the city’s procurement process. Next, the city will select up to three qualified respondents to bid on the subsequent Request for Proposals for the project. Then, the city will pick one final partner. Construction could start in 2020, with a three-year buildout, the mayor said.
Noting that his short mayoral term ends in June, Farrell remarked: “Given my limited shelf-life, if that [citywide broadband] project alone is the only thing we get done, I will tell you my time in office is well-served.”
Farrell spoke before hundreds of mayors and technology officials from other cities at the Smart City Connect conference in Kansas City, Mo.
The fiber network is planned to reach to every home and business in the city. A major purpose of the network will be to serve 100,000 San Francisco residents who don’t have Internet access—about 12% of the total.
“With so many amazing companies in San Francisco like Uber and Twitter, we still have communities being left behind. It’s shameful…It’s criminal in many regards,” Farrell said.
He noted that current Internet providers in the city, AT&T and Comcast, “have done a good job and we are still not closing the digital divide.”
“With the FCC and Trump rolling back net neutrality and consumer privacy protections, it’s the antithesis of what most of America wants,” Farrell added.
“The digital divide won’t be cured unless the government steps in,” he said, to loud applause from attendees from other cities.
Farrell promised San Francisco’s network will be publicly-owned “because voters won’t accept anything else.” He predicted voters will swiftly approve the project later this year.
The network will also operate as a utility with 100% coverage of “every single household and business,” he said. It will also be an open access network, where every person under the poverty line will get the service free. “It will offer best in class net neutrality, privacy and network security,” he added .We want the best for residents.” He also said he wants speeds to include a 1 gigabit per second tier.
The project, he admitted, is in a group of fiber broadband projects that offer “no incentive for a private sector model.” He said fast speeds with the city’s future Internet would bolster 5G wireless rollouts to help serve Internet of Things devices in transportation and health care.
“We know if 5G is going to work, fiber has to be part of the equation. 5G won’t replace the citywide need for fiber,” Farrell said. The city is ready to work with 5G providers to provide fiber backhaul, he added.
Farrell concluded on the theme of urging other municipalities to push for government broadband to solve the digital divide. “The status quo is not working,” he said.