A storm has blown up in San Francisco over the best way to provide broadband to the city. One day after San Fran inked its agreement with an Earthlink/Google team to setup a wireless networks with a free (if low speed) component a report came out that further fueled concern over the deal and the city's choice of technology.
The upshot was that a new study was commissioned that was to explore the potential of fiber optics. A story in the Examiner titled "New bid to close ‘digital divide’" examines the tale:
It's nice to see that some folks are beginning to give more serious consideration to dealing with digital divide issues than throwing "free" WiFi at it. Finding a sustainable way to make truly modern, truly affordable, real broadband universally available--and to make its utility easy to grasp--is a much harder problem than that. Making sure that a network penetrates to where it will be used, that it is fast enough to really enable folks to get up to speed on modern networks, and supported by a plan that is sustainable over the long run will take a lot of work. Gaining local control of the last mile, not offering it over to distant corporations is the first step. I like to think Lafayette has gotten out ahead of places like San Francisco and Philadelphia in treating the problem seriously. Once the courts approve the network plan here it will be time to think seriously about what the community wants to do with it.
Ammiano said the fiber network is not meant to compete or undermine the Wi-Fi agreement, but he did say the fiber network would truly close the digital divide while the Wi-Fi would not since it is an “iffy” service and may be hard for some people to draw the signal into their homes, particularly in low-income neighborhoods...
Chris Vein, head of The City’s Department of Telecommunications and Information Services, who negotiated the Wi-Fi deal, acknowledged fiber is a superior technology, but its drawback is that it costs more and takes longer to set up, whereas Wi-Fi is cheaper and quicker to set up.
Some backstory: SFBay Guardian Overview of objections to wireless plan; Silicon Valley Observer on local control and digital divide issues.
PS...for those who are gluttons for punishment: A PDF file of the San Francisco study which recommended a fiber-optic network to the city is available online. At 196 pages it is not a quick read. But for anyone who really wants to understand all the decisions that go into 1) deciding whether or not to install a municipal fiber-optic network and 2) deciding what sort of fiber optic network to install (there are choices to be made that effect what can be done with the network) and 3) understand just what would be involved in actual implementation, the study is just about the best introduction that I've found. The only caveat I'd make is that its strong point is also its weak point: it is about a specific, real, situation. On the plus side this means that there is little glossing over the hard issues with hand-waving. On the other hand not all San Francisco's "hard issues" apply to Lafayette or other cities considering fiber and, of course, they don't have some of our particular local issues with which to contend. That said, a review of the study teaches a lot. If you're a patient sort--or one of the rare birds that actually like such study--I highly recommend it.