San Francisco’s plan to build a city-wide gigabit fiber Internet service won’t go forward this year, as city officials decided they need to do more research before asking voters to approve a ballot initiative.
The universal broadband project “has suffered a setback as outgoing Mayor Mark Farrell will not place a tax measure on the November ballot to fund the project before he leaves office in the coming weeks,” the San Francisco Examiner reported Sunday. The deadline for Farrell to submit the ballot initiative passed yesterday.
In January, the city issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to find companies that are qualified to build the network. After examining the submissions, the city named three entities┬á(Bay City Broadband Partners, FiberGateway, and Sonic Plenary SF Fiber) as “pre-qualified bidders.”
A ballot measure to generate $1.7 billion over 25 years would have been one of the next major steps, but Farrell told the Examiner that he decided against it. One poll showed that the ballot measure was “just short of the two-thirds needed to pass,” the article said.
“The City had intended to issue a request for proposals this month for the three teams to bid on, but that has now been put on hold indefinitely,” the Examiner reported. A letter to the bidders informing them of the delay said that the city will “research a number of factors, including how market conditions and the construction environment would affect the project.”
If built, the network would create competition by letting multiple retail providers lease capacity in order to offer service to consumers. The project would also involve a free Wi-Fi service for city parks, city buildings, major thoroughfares, and visitor areas. Low-income residents would qualify for subsidies that make home Internet service more affordable.
Farrell said that the project could still be completed later on. Mayor-elect London Breed will be sworn into office on July 11, having won an election in which Farrell did not run. Mayor Ed Lee died in December, and Farrell has been serving as acting mayor.
“Farrell has directed his staff to compile a briefing binder for Breed about the project, including ways to make it a reality,” the Examiner reported. Further research will include a market study on how much revenue the city would earn by leasing the network to Internet providers.
We asked Breed for comment on the project yesterday and will update this story if we get a response.