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Startup Plans WiFi Where Google Failed

By: David Utter

Plans for free wireless access for San Francisco could come to fruition if a startup called Meraki can do what Google and EarthLink could not: satisfy the local bureaucracy.

Startup Plans WiFi Where Google Failed

The Free the Net project Meraki started in San Francisco has 40,000 people using its wireless service. By the end of 2008, they may have service throughout the city.

EarthLink's woes and a combative local government confounded Google's efforts to unwire the City by the Bay. Meraki plans to accomplish their mesh network without City funds, according to the Wall Street Journal. Residents of San Francisco can obtain a small repeater box for free from Meraki; the box extends the mesh network.

Meraki has taken an interesting approach to providing the wireless network for the city. They have categorized the build as a research & development expense, the Journal said.

Text ads will help finance the deployment, and the company has taken in funding from several investors, starting with $5 million from Sequoia Capital and Google, and following that with a new round of $20 million in venture capital.

The little repeater boxes Meraki gives out poses much less of a challenge to implement than the Google/EarthLink bid. That plan would have required access to public utility poles and other municipal property.

Although Google and EarthLink planned to pay for ongoing access to those poles and other places where their antennas would be installed, the plan still drew extensive criticism from the community. Politicians got in the way, as they tend to do with these kinds of projects.

Meraki's idea bypasses the potential roadblocks by appealing directly to personal property owners and renters. An AP report said Meraki needs to get 10,000 to 15,000 repeaters deployed throughout the city. They have about 500 supporting the current userbase today.

About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for InternetFinancialNews and WebProNews covering technology and business.

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