Ron Vinson, San Francisco’s Technology Administrator, Needs to Be Fired

Soliciting Support for Free Wi-Fi in San FranciscoSoliciting Support for Free Wi-Fi in San Francisco Hosted on Zooomr

SF Gate: Multimedia (image) So remember when Google and Earthlink inked a deal with the City of San Francisco in order to have free citywide wi-fi? I blogged about it back in April earlier this year when Mayor Gavin Newsom said he “hoped” we would have free wi-fi in the City by the end of the year.

Well I wouldn’t hold your breath for this anytime soon. In typical bureaucratic fashion the whole mess has gotten bogged down in a bunch of citywide red tape.

Katie Fehrenbacher over at GigaOm has more here, but unfortunately, even after already having a signed deal, Google and Earthlink are having to run around town promoting and organizing a bunch of community town hall type meetings in order to try and build political support and pressure for their initiative.

So how did we go from Mayor Newsom wanting to “make San Francisco a more appealing place for businesses and help close the so-called ‘digital divide’ by enabling more low-income households to connect to the Internet more easily,” to the current political debacle that we have on our hands now? I have no idea, but I think if I were the Mayor I’d fire Ron Vinson, San Francisco’s Technology Administrator.

Best I can tell Vinson is the top guy associated with this program. Chris Saca, who leads Google’s special projects, last month expressed concern to the San Francisco Chronicle about how frustrated Google is getting with the City’s slow negotiating style.

“Sacca said that talks to come up with a final contract have advanced little since they started and that officials have made unreasonable demands, including a request for free computers and a share in revenues.”

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So let’s see, Google wants to do something nice, something community driven, by putting together a kick ass wireless service at what is probably a huge cost to them for the benefit of the people and visitors of San Francisco, and unnamed City officials would rather look a gift horse in the mouth and try to make up demands for free computers and the like?

Of course, if you listen to how Vinson, the chief administrator for this project apparently sees things he “declined to address Google’s complaints,” and added that “the city is pleased where the negotiations are headed.” WTF.

Mayor Newsom. Your free citywide wi-fi initiative is an amazingly positive thing. You have the opportunity to make San Francisco a shining example of how a connected City can operate. You can help bring internet access to poor people. You have two companies that have already signed up to build this out for you.

And then you’ve got this hack not getting it done.

You need to fire Ron Vinson and put someone in place who can run the City’s technology department for the benefit of the people.

It is not in the people’s best interest to have to wait an extra year for wifi while some bureaucratic jack ass tries to play hard ball and extort some free computers out of Google.

Fire Vinson and put somebody in place who can get this deal done now. Please. So that we can have wi-fi access before the year 2010. This is your opportunity to say screw the telecommunications companies, screw the cable companies that charge people too much for internet access, screw the pork rollers who would like to add anything possible to this deal — and just get it done. It really should not be this difficult and it’s a shame that Earthlink/Google has to have some person down handing out fliers at lunch to try to drum up attendance at town hall meetings to make sure that this thing happens.

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15 Comments

  1. Matt says:

    I really don’t get this paragraph:

    “So how did we go from Mayor Newsom wanting to “make San Francisco a more appealing place for businesses and help close the so-called ‘digital divide’ by enabling more low-income households to connect to the Internet more easily,” to the current political debacle that we have on our hands now? I have no idea, but I think if I were the Mayor I’d fire Ron Vinson, San Francisco’s Technology Administrator”

    So you don’t know why these events happened, but you still want the guy fired? That’s kind of harsh.

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    Matt, the thing has been derailed. It was supposed to be here by year end. Google has publicly criticized the City noting that they are being held up for things like free computers. And this guy has the audacity to tell the SF Chonricle that the negotiation talks are going well and refusing to address Google’s criticism?

    I’m sorry. If there are things beyond his control that are holding up citywide wifi I’d love to hear it from him. Otherwise his refusal to substantively address the issues make him highly ineffective in my opinion. He’s the top guy. He’s not doing a very good job getting us free wifi and his not articulating the reasons why publicly. So, yeah, I think he ought to be fired. If he wants to try and pass the buck and blame someone else I’m all ears.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Both Google and Earthlink are excited about all the revenue they are going to make, kudos to the city for making sure they don’t sell out their citizens for free.

    This is a commercial venture, not a welfare program

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Anonymous,

    Sell out their citizens? Huh? The wi-fi is free! Free wi-fi! This is a good thing. People will use this. We are going to delay wi-fi for a year or so simply so some bureacrat can try to get the public library 10 new free computers or whatever the deal is?

    The City had an opportunity to make sure that they were not selling out the people of San Francisco by having a very public open competitive bidding process for the job in the first place. Google and Earthlink were not the only two companies competing for the job. But they were selected.

    This process ensured that the people of San Francisco would not be sold out. But now, they want to go back and dick around for small time demands like free computers that are likely stalling this process WHILE WE DON’T GET WI-FI.

    There was plenty of time while the selection of a provider was being done for the City to try and get the best deal.

    This is a black mark for Gavin Newsom in my opinion and the more this bureacratic drama lingers on the worse this gets. This should be an opportunity for the mayor to do something great for the people of San Francisco. Free wi-fi and low cost high speed wi-fi should be celebrated not stonewalled by a bunch coporate interests, pork interests, and activists.

  5. Fazal Majid says:

    Sadly, not surprising for anyone with the even a cursory interest in SF municipal politics.

    SF has a budget of nearly $6Bn. That’s the entire GNP of Georgia (the Caucasian republic the Russians are bullying right now, not the state known for peaches & pecans). We don’t have much to show for it.

    I would say Newsom should fire this klutz and leave the position vacant. There is no reason to waste scarce funds on busybodies who mostly abide by Parkinson’s law, when schools are being closed for lack of funds.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Google is going to profit. Just because something is free to consumers does not mean that it is not a revenue producing service.

    They will sell ads or collect data, they will make money.

    The city asked for part of the money. I would rather the city have the money generated by the free service provided their citizens than more google profits.

  7. Thomas Hawk says:

    The city asked for part of the money. I would rather the city have the money generated by the free service provided their citizens than more google profits.

    And I’d rather have free friggin’ wi-fi before the year 2025. If the City wanted a better deal then they should have looked for this when they put the project up for competitive bid. Typically competition makes sure that the fairest priced deal wins. Obviously no one stepped up to share revenue with the City, primarily because this is a big revenue loser and Google’s doing it more for the community support and goodwill PR that it can generate than anything.

    To now try to go back (after a deal was signed and a competitive bidding process took place) and extort the provider for revenue share and free computers at the cost of delaying free wi-fi to the citizens of San Francisco is just stupid.

    If I were Google and Earthlink I’d be attempted to say screw you San Francisco, walk away from the deal entirely and go unwire another City someplace. Then where would the City be left. They’d have to go back to the competitive process get no better of a deal because most firms don’t value the PR the same way that Google and Earthlink are and it would be even longer before we got wifi.

    The time to try and get the best deal for the City was in the competitive bidding process, not after a deal has been done. We need to roll this wi-fi out NOW and it’s stupid that Earthlink and Google have to try to play political football with a bunch of bureacrats.

    There are many people who would oppose free wi-fi in San Francisco. The hotels who would rather charge you $12 a day for internet access, the telecommunications companies who like it when you pay them for DSL (people like our good friends over on Folsom St., SBC, oh wait, no, they *were* there, they moved to Texas), gadfly activists who just want to protest for the sake of protesting, etc., but bottom line it is good for the citizens of San Francisco. It is good for poor people. It will make San Francisco a more desireable place to live, work and visit.

    But we need it NOW, not in 5 years and this means new leadership must be put in place who can get the job done.

  8. Matt says:

    Look, I work for a large County government in Florida (population over 1 million). As part of my job I handle a couple of large $$ contracts. Unfortunately, there are lots of ways that red tape that can find it’s way into the process. But, I can honestly say that government, no matter how big or small should be able to move at the same pace as the corporate world (except for maybe the bloated US auto makers, look at the recent GM/Renault/Nission merger attempt).

    That being said, with everything I’ve read about this, we’re only getting one side of the story, google’s side. Now I know that google’s motto is “do no evil”, but that doesn’t mean that they are the innocent victims here. I just think that maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to take google’s side without, as you said, knowing the whole story. Maybe google in the beginning offered free computers, but now they ‘ve recinded that offer. Same goes for profit sharing, maybe Google also offered that to the City and is now backing out…there are tons of reasons why things may be breaking down. Though, the City is not helping matters by responding to this issue with the general nebulous statements.

  9. Thomas Hawk says:

    Matt, hey man, you may be right. But if the Ron Vinson has a different version fo the events I sure as heck haven’t seen it anywhere. Certainly he had an opportunity to get his side of the story out when the San Francisco Chronicle asked him about Google’s concerns and he declined to comment and instead gave back a smart ass response that he was happy with the way that the negotiations were going.

    So Vinson then must also be happy too that we won’t have wifi by year end as previously indicated by Mayor Newsom.

    I’m all for hearing another side to this story. The comments section on my post are open. If anyone has another side to share I’d welcome hearing it.

    But even if Vinson does have a different story to tell than Google, I think he’s doing a bad job as a communicator when he won’t answer the San Francisco Chronicle’s questions about Google’s criticisms. He’s a public official, he should be more forthcoming about why this is taking so long.

    I would think that if Google originally promised computers and then took them back that this would be easy enough for Vinson to point out.

    If he’s so justified in stalling wifi for the citizens of San Francisco maybe he ought to at minimum explain himself.

  10. Smiley says:

    Mountain View has had free Google WiFi for some time now, it’s not rocket science. I agree with Thomas, lets dispense with the red tape and deploy, we can always fix, improve, and bicker after the service is up. As to SF’s Telecommunication Dept, I tried to deal with these guys during the AT&T; to Comcast switch and they were unresponsive, and completely out of touch with SF consumers. Now SF has some of the most expensive cable TV in the nation.

  11. Doesn’t city wide wifi increase the opportunity for internet crime? The government has already let hundreds of hackers gain anynimity by allowing smaller wifi hot spots to emerge. I generaly think that city wide wifi is a good thing, but what is going to stop internet crime? with the inability to trace someone through their ip address it opens the door for billions of dollers to be stolen by identity thiefs. I mean come on if you pretended to be an earthlink representative and said some bs about ‘system crash….yadda…yadda…yaddaa…we need your information to correct the problem’ how many people do you think would actually give their info to you? surprisingly, earthlink offers there members like this on a silver platter. I mean come on what kind of company lists member websites and e-mail addresses on their homepage? so, what if 50 out of 100 people don’t respond to such an e-mail. This would still mean that the success rate for some hacker who decided to go phishing for identity info is 50%. so what does this mean? city wide wifi frees hackers to operate without the threat of being traced. Thus, they can succefully phish for information and end up costing credit card consumers billions of dollers. This problem has existed before even the idea of wifi, but does allowing anonymous access to the internet on a city wide scale, UNMONITORED help the problem?

  12. sasha says:

    Hi, Thomas,

    I think there are a few misconceptions in your post which are worth clearing up:

    1) The city is negotiating with Earthlink, not with Google. Google will not have a deal with the city, it will be exclusively with Earthlink.

    2) Earthlink does not have “a signed deal” with the city other than the rights to negotiate.

    3) Earthlink is not in this “to do something nice”, they are in this to make money. They are getting access to the city’s poles and power. There’s no reason why the city shouldn’t want something in exchange for that.

    4) The process was “competitive”. There were 6 responses to the city’s Request For Proposals, and the city opted to negotiate with Google/Earthlink.

    5) you make it clear that you want Wi-Fi now. I think most of us want it as soon as possible. But it’s worth it to many people (including me) to make sure that it doesn’t just benefit those of us who already have computers and computer skills. Earthlink will be making money from this, make no mistake, and we have the chance to work with them to use some of that money to enable all our residents to benefit from technology.

  13. Kimo C says:

    More corrections to your post Thomas:

    1) Chris Vein is the head of DTIS and the one behind the WiFi initiative. Ron Vinson works for him.

    2) The city is getting the best deal for the citizens – Philly took 6-8 months and San Francisco is already the most unwired city in the nation – you can’t through a rock without hitting a free WiFi cafe. Let’s wait for the City fiber study as well as the city-owned wifi study set for December. Sometimes taking time is the best way to negotiate a deal. Before you advocate having someone getting fired – think about it this was a PR move by Google/Earthlink.

    Chris has scaled back his comments since that one story – it really backfired on him. It showed that the city was putting the screws to Google/Earthlink in the discussions. You should be happy about that.

    See the weekly update of negotiation status here:
    http://www.sfgov.org/site/tech_connect_index.asp?id=40515

    From the beginning it’s not really Ron Vinson’s fault that the Mayor did a backroom deal with Google and then did no needs analysis or community buy-in before starting the RFI/RFP process.

    At the RFI process Google submitted a 100 page response with 90 of the pages completly readacted/blacked out.

    The City has had 6 public hearing on these issue so far and while other vendors have attended – neither Google or Earthlink have shown up.

    The RFP was basically written for Google. Yet, during the RFP process the city apparently destroyed the individual RFP ratings – only providing aggregate values and refused to provide the resumes of the people who performed the reviews.

    I’m not sure who one can call 300k best effort, outdoor with spotty indoor coverage a kick-a** solution – heck google gave Mtn Vw 1000k.

    Google has their experimental network – it’s mtn vw.

    This one is for money – they aren’t doing this to be nice.

    There is no rush – lots of cities are doing wifi – San Francisco can wait for the Fiber and other studies (End of year) in the meanwhile, the negotiations are still ongoing – we can let other cities make mistakes.

    For example Tempe AZ which had the big MobilePro rollout which has a population of 160,000 has at in April 06 only 1,200 subscribers (not sure if that includes the free municipal accounts in that deal). yet people continue to complain about spotty indoor coverage.

    you have a laptop and can move around and you probably have a window at home – poor people don’t have either.

    Why won’t Earthlink/Google agree to do test pilots in the city before the contract is signed? That’s what happened in Pilly with Sq Mile plots.

    Are they afraid that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be?

    Muni Wifi is all about real estate – about essentially exclusive access to favorable lightpoles and city buildings (24×7 power with no trees and blocking structures). If Earthlink gets these – it’s pretty unlikely that another provider will be able to come into the city afterwards with the slim pickings. Earthlink has been desperate to control the pipe and here in San Francisco Google is helping them get that monopoly control.

    San Francisco has 4-5 Cell phone providers who compete viciously but will have only 1 WiFi Franchise. When the next WiFi tech comes out that actually works decently this franchise will be just like your Cable or phone company jacking the city around because they own the network.

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