Back in May, after more than two years of negotiations, I announced the establishment of a generous gift from Google to provide free Wi-Fi to 31 parks, plazas, and open spaces across San Francisco. This project will further cement San Francisco’s role as a national leader in creating technologically driven solutions to improve the quality of life for our city’s residents and visitors.
Though San Francisco is becoming the central location of the technological revolution that we are experiencing, we as a city have been a slow adopter of the innovation and opportunities that are happening in our backyard. For example, our Recreation and Parks Department still uses the outdated mode of dial-up to connect to the Internet at many of our recreation centers across the City. Outdated technologies slow our city’s ability to provide efficient and timely services that our residents deserve and depend upon.
Free Wi-Fi service across many San Francisco parks and plazas will have a number of positive benefits and implications: it will further close the digital divide in communities where Internet access is limited, it will increase government efficiency by providing our city’s Recreation and Park Department staff with more tools to more effectively manage their recreation centers and community programs, and finally, it will enable organizations that serve our youth, seniors, and populations with no Internet access the free opportunity to further enhance their programs’ effectiveness and outcomes.
Like many cities across the nation, San Francisco has a vested interest in working to close or lessen the digital divide that exists among our residents and in our various communities citywide. In working to close that divide, we will make an investment in San Francisco’s human capital and San Francisco will reap the positive benefits that come by making Internet use more readily accessible. More accessibility means more opportunities for creativity, innovation, and quality of life improvements — all are areas our City should actively encourage and support.
Despite previously failed attempts to bring free Wi-Fi to San Francisco, I still believed a public-private partnership could achieve the goal that we as a city have been seeking for so long. Thanks in part to a family friendship that stemmed from high school, I worked over the past two years with the government relations team from Google to reopen discussions about free Wi-Fi in San Francisco. In our discussions, we came to the conclusion that it was best to tackle an area where free Wi-Fi would have a tremendous impact, as opposed to trying to conquer bringing free Wi-Fi citywide. We knew and still believe that when we get this project done right and well, we can hopefully use it as a model moving forward with the ultimate goal of bringing free Wi-Fi across the City.
Throughout my discussions with Google, it was a personal priority that the project would be able to touch every corner of our city while keeping in mind parks, plazas, and open spaces that receive the most use. Ultimately, due to the size of the gift that we received, we were able to fund 31 sites across San Francisco that will soon be receiving free Wi-Fi. For a full list of the locations, please visit sfbos.org/index.aspx?page=15191.
In terms of public process, there are steps that need to be completed to bring this project into reality. The acceptance of the gift from Google has to go through the legislative process, which provides the opportunity for public input at our Recreation and Parks Commission and at our Board of Supervisors. I plan to introduce the resolution that will allow the City to accept the generous gift before the end of the year. Barring no major setbacks, we expect to start installation at the 31 sites by spring of 2014.
San Francisco should be a leader in bringing technological solutions to civic issues that we face. Free Wifi in our parks, plazas, and open spaces is a first-step to giving our residents greater access to technology and the Internet. I imagine a city that allows an individual to work from a park in Chinatown, download a useful app while visiting our Civic Center, and make it easier for Recreation and Parks Staff to sign up children and families for recreational programs at recreation centers across San Francisco. Please join me in supporting free WiFi in our parks, plazas, and open spaces, so that we can turn this vision into a reality for our city residents.