Consultant: SF wireless broadband effort can learn alot from Philly's

 In San Francisco, bids are due February 21 to build what is officially called the TechConnect Citywide Wireless Broadband Network. The City describes the project as an effort to build a "universal, affordable, wireless broadband network throughout the City and County of San Francisco.

TechConnectHeader.jpg
 

In San Francisco, bids are due February 21 to build what is officially called the TechConnect Citywide Wireless Broadband Network. The City describes the project as an effort to build a "universal, affordable, wireless broadband network throughout the City and County of San Francisco."

Fresh on the heels of his new book, "Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless: Applying lessons from the Philadelphia WiFi story,"  San Francisco Bay-area consultant, journalist and blogger Craig Settles has just posted a detailed comparison of the City of Philadelphia's efforts to deploy citywide WiFi with a similar effort by the City of San Francisco.

Settles is, well, unsettled when he compares the two efforts. Plainly, he believes that San Francisco could be doing a better job than it has been doing in the current Request for Proposal stage for vendors that would build and then manage the network.  

There seems to be quite the dust up in San Francisco over the RFP for a WiFi network, and from all sides of the political spectrum," Craig Settles writes in his post 10 questions San Franciscans need to ask about that RFP.The conservative view is the standard free-market arguments about government in the private sector’s business. The heart of the left and moderates argument is that the RFP doesn’t seem complete nor responsive to the needs of the people."

Reading thru Craig's 10 questions, these three seem the most powerful of his arguments to me:

Has there been a technology feasibility study?

For nearly a year before the RFP was issued in Philly, there was a series of “proof of concept” deployments of WiFi networks, spectrum analysis, RF testing and five pilot projects in different parts of the city that each brought together a different set of vendors’ products. S.F. cancelled their plans for a feasibility study.

Is the RFP specific enough and demanding enough to ensure that citizens’ best interests are served?

When reviewing the RFP of each city, I feel Philly’s document asks for vendors to provide a lot more detail than the S.F. RFP does to ensure certain objectives are met. For example, item 2.2.2 in the Philly RFP says “Respondents must define in their Proposals a preliminary architecture for the System as well as the services to conduct a more thorough and detailed design for the System.” Then it lists 11 points that must be addressed. Of course, if you do all of the preliminary work Philly did, you can be more demanding in an RFP.

And finally, this well-taken point:

Are there requirements to make sure the network infrastructure doesn’t become obsolete?

This might seem like a nit to pick, but Philadelphia requested (item 2.2.6) “a detailed plan for how and when this technology refresh process will occur during the contract term.” They also specify that upgrades be backward compatible, request that vendors’ product roadmaps reflect the intended upgrade plan and expect for the entire network infrastructure to be replaced through refreshes in the course of seven years.
S.F. appears to be more relaxed on this point, asking bidders to explain how they will determine during the course of the contract when and how upgrades are to be done. I bring this issue up because technology obsolescence can kill your network or cost a fortune to overcome if you don’t plan appropriately for it. Like other points in the S.F. RFP, it seems like they’re touching the right bases, but not carefully enough to ensure citizens don’t get screwed later.

I'd be interested in TalkBacks- particularly from residents of Philadelphia and San Francisco. What are your thoughts about the points Craig Settles is raising?

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