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Los Angeles moves ahead with free citywide Wi-Fi plan

CUPERTINO, CA - OCTOBER 14:  A member of the press inspects the new trrackpad on a MacBook Pro laptop after a special announcement event at Apple Headquarters October 14, 2008 in Cupertino, California. Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced a new line of MacBook and MacBook Pro laptop computers.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The city council on Tuesday unanimously approved a motion to seek proposals from vendors for a citywide Wi-Fi network that would be free to residents and businesses.

Los Angeles has taken another step toward creating a citywide Wi-Fi network that could potentially bring free broadband Internet to all its residents and businesses.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to issue a request for proposals, starting the bidding process from vendors, according to the office of Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who has spearheaded the effort.

The cost of the plan would depend on the types of proposals received, running from the millions for a basic 2Mbps or 5Mbps service and up to billions for a super-fast gigabit fiber-optic system. Either way, the city wants the vendor to pay for it.

"The city is going into it and writing the agreement, basically saying, 'we have no additional funding for this effort.' We're requiring the vendors that respond to pay for the city resources needed to expedite any permitting and inspection associated with laying their fiber," L.A. Information Technology Agency GM Steve Reneker told Ars Technica Tuesday.

To make up its initial investment, the winning vendor might be allowed to sell ads or could offer the triple-play package of Internet, landline phone service and television at a premium. 

"I would think that's how they'll justify the buildout, is being able to offer triple play [packages]," Reneker told Ars Technica.

Blumenfield's office noted in a press release that expanded access to wireless broadband and fiber is expected to have tangible benefits to local job creation and workforce development initiatives.

Reneker notes in a report to the council that a citywide initiative could also help support the L.A. Unified School District's troubled iPad program, as an estimated 30 percent of student households are currently without broadband.

Blumenfield's office also noted that it has been nearly five years since L.A. abandoned a previous Wi-Fi initiative under then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and that, if successful, the plan would make L.A. the largest city in the United States with free universal access to wireless broadband.

LA Citywide Wi-Fi Initiative