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Google, Earthlink Move Closer to Free Wi-Fi in San Francisco

In beating five competitors for a key committee endorsement, Google Inc. and Earthlink Inc. have cleared the first hurdle in their joint bid to build a free Wi-Fi network across San Francisco.

Wednesday night's approval by the city's TechConnect Committee moved the Google-Earthlink team, which also includes Motorola and Tropos Networks, considerably closer to building the network that will blanket the city. Before construction can begin, however, the winners have to negotiate a contract with the city and then get it approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

In getting the committee's endorsement, Google and partners beat bids from MetroFi Inc., Razortooth Communications LLP, NextWLAN Corp., Communications Bridge Global Inc. and SF Metro Connect, a nonprofit backed by IBM and Cisco Systems Inc. MetroFi, which has built citywide Wi-Fi networks in several Silicon Valley cities, came the closest to beating the winners, the San Francisco Chronicle said.

"We are thrilled that the San Francisco TechConnect Committee has selected the EarthLink proposal," Donald Berryman, executive vice president of EarthLink and president of municipal networks, said in a statement.

The winning team plans to offer two levels of wireless services -- a basic one that would be free and a higher-speed paid service that would be operated by Earthlink.

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