The Los Angeles City Council unanimously agreed today to seek out a vendor to provide free wireless Internet service to Angelenos.
The council voted 13-0 to start a bidding process to attract companies to set up free WiFi while ensuring the city does not "significantly influence" private Internet carrier competition.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who proposed the motion, said citywide WiFi would "bridge the digital divide," allowing those who cannot afford internet connection to get online, as well as generate economic activity for the city.
Blumenfield acknowledged the logistical and financial "hurdles" of the plan, but said the RFP should ask companies to think creatively about implementing citywide WiFi.
"Bring us your innovation. Look at the city's assets. No deal is too small. We want to look at a big vision," he said. "We want to partner with the private sector in ways that we can expand our reach, do much more than we could if we did this alone."
The city last tried to implement citywide WiFi in 2007 under an initiative started by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Tony Cardenas. The city dropped the plan in 2009 after determining that the estimated $38-46 million cost to build the WiFi system would be too expensive.
The city could also face challenges from private Internet carriers. A 2005 attempt to implement free WiFi in Philadelphia ran into legal hurdles when communications company Verizon sued, contending the municipal service displaced competition among carriers that had already invested in communications infrastructure.
Verizon won the lawsuit, which led to cities in Pennsylvania being restricted to offering only free WiFi at speeds slower than the service offered by private companies.
— City News Service