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San Francisco installs its own free Wi-Fi internet in its busiest area

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New York's city government may be planning to install free public Wi-Fi to lure entrepreneurs and startups, but San Francisco is trying to beat it to the punch. The Californian city's mayor, Edwin Lee, has announced the installation of free Wi-Fi along San Francisco's Market Street, "the busiest and most economically diverse corridor" in the city. The quarter-million people who walk through the area daily now have access to a connection named "_San_Francisco_Free_WiFi," which reportedly offers upload and download speeds of up to 50 Mbps to all.

Ars Technica reports the Market Street area was originally set to receive free Wi-Fi internet from AT&T after the city reached a tentative agreement with the cable provider in September 2012, but the deal expired before it could be completed. Marc Touitou, San Francisco's chief information officer, told The San Francisco Chronicle that rather than try to sign a new deal, it was "simpler, faster, better to do it on our own." Touitou said by installing the connection — a fiber-optic cable run under the street, with networking equipment set up on existing infrastructure such as traffic lights — the city was able to provide a high quality service with "no strings attached, no ads."

The connection is 50 Mbps, but will vary depending on a number of factors

The project cost $500,000, a low figure made possible by hardware donations from wireless provider Ruckus, and 1 gigabit of internet access contributed by local company Layer42 Networks. The connection is touted at 50 Mbps, but an FAQ cautions against expecting to be able to stream Netflix on a street corner, saying "the connection speed will vary depending on a number of factors," including signal strength and number of current users.

The new connection continues a push to make San Francisco one of the most connected cities in the US. Free Wi-Fi is currently available at San Francisco International Airport, parts of City Hall, and in some public housing developments. Back in July, Google donated $600,000 for the purpose of installing free Wi-Fi in 31 of the city's public parks and plazas, a project that All Things D says will come to fruition in the coming months. The installation of Market Street's Wi-Fi network has been described as a test project by city officials. Other areas, such as the Embarcadero and Third Street, may soon get their own government-funded connections. They may not be as fast as Provo, Utah's public Wi-Fi connections, but they do show a commitment to providing free internet to a city with intrinsic links to Silicon Valley.