Wednesday, January 11, 2006

10 questions San Franciscans need to ask about that RFP

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. 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.

You can read an article and a blog that lay out some specific issues of contention.

Having looked at S.F.’s RFP, re-read Philadelphia’s RFP and knowing the many steps Philadelphia took leading up to their RFP, I believe there are a few vital things missing in the city by the Bay. If groups supporting muni WiFi in San Francisco or any city ask the following questions in the context of the process that Philly followed, many cities would get a better start to their initiatives. Don't imitate every step Philly took. Ask the questions they asked and answer them in a way that best fits your city.

1. Is there a steering committee for this initiative that is reflective of the city?

The mayor of Philadelphia selected an executive steering committee of 15 people representative of various community and business constituencies, and two from the city government. The committee brought in a consultant firm proficient in muni WiFi deployments for guidance. In S.F., the Techconnect review panel has seven members: three from the city, two from the Public Utility Commission, one community rep and the consultant firm Philadelphia retained.

2. Does the steering committee have a deeply thought out, clearly articulated vision of where they think this initiative should go?

Philadelphia’s committee worked together as a group in one session to complete an eight-page workbook in a vision-development exercise. They defined what a wireless network should and shouldn’t be, what services it should deliver to the communities, and worked through 30 values to determine “What values drive the development of this community technology program?”

3. Was there, or is there a plan for, an aggressive needs-analysis process that reflects the diverse city?

The committee conducted 20 extensive focus groups with about 15 people each, and each group represented a key constituency, including ethnic groups, neighborhoods, health care, education and business. Even the incumbents were invited to a focus group, which they declined. Participants were recruited and selected based on their recognized standing (formal or informal) as a leader within their respective constituency. All economic strata of the city were represented.

4. Is there a business plan?

The executive committee, in 90 days and before the RFP was issued, created a 72-page business plan for the wireless initiative. As with any multi-million dollar business venture, the plan included ROI projections, business model analysis, an analysis of best practices, infrastructure definition, stakeholder analysis and plan for marketing the network to the various constituencies.

5. 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.


At 11:02 AM, Blogger Robert S. Anthony said...

Excellent outline Craig. There are so many things that can go wrong with a Wi-Fi design for a city as large as San Francisco that it's important to get as many technical and political roadblocks out of the way as early as possible. As you suggest, there's no need to reinvent the wheel here.

Backward compatibility is important since you don't want to create a system that the poor will be locked out of with the very first upgrade.

Hopefully the city will move swiftly, but carefully and end up with a useful Wi-Fi network that lives up to its mission.

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