(TNS) — San Francisco’s attempt to bring affordable, high-speed Internet service to every home and business in the city is set to take a major step forward Wednesday as city officials begin choosing private-sector partners to build the network at the lowest possible cost.
After three years of deciding what a city-owned fiber-optic Internet network would look like, the Department of Technology on Wednesday will invite Internet providers, telecommunication experts, financial firms and other players to submit plans for constructing and operating the network.
The network would be owned by the city but built and managed as a public-private partnership — an arrangement that allows the city to blunt some of the costs and risks of creating a brand-new utility. The city would maintain significant control over the price consumers would pay if they sign up for the service.
The city will winnow down the responses it receives to three teams, from which it will select a plan. The city has mandated that its partner adhere to the principles of net neutrality, which ensure that all Internet traffic to legal websites is treated equally.
The city is also requiring subsidies for low-income residents, along with privacy protections for customers’ data.
Overall the project, which has been spearheaded by Mayor Mark Farrell, is expected to cost between $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion, but that figure could come down, depending on how it is financed. The project would make San Francisco by far the largest city in the country to operate a high-speed municipal Internet service.
Farrell and other officials have billed the project as essential to closing the city’s digital divide. About 100,000 San Franciscans don’t have an Internet connection at home, according to city data.
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