San Diego The City's ambitious behind-the-scenes quest to build a municipal Wi-Fi network is virtually moribund, according to a slew of e-mails obtained from city hall last week under the state's public records act. The saga began on May 22 of last year with a meeting between City Councilman Scott Peters and Betsy Kinsley, his chief of staff, and Stephen Salinger, director of business development for EarthLink Municipal Networks, an Atlanta-based outfit that has negotiated contracts to build wireless systems in Philadelphia and San Francisco, among other big cities. In an e-mail to Kinsley sent after the meeting, Salinger described the market for his company's services as "a feeding frenzy! To reinforce that perception, I'm in Detroit today. Tomorrow? New Orleans. Friday? San Francisco. It is crazy. It would be great to see San Diego move in this direction."
But two days later, Lisa Briggs, a $95,000-a-year "policy advisor" to Mayor Jerry Sanders, weighed in: "I need to offer a bit of 'caution' here," the former SDG&E public affairs manager wrote. "We will need to talk to someone who has direct experience in negotiating these kinds of deals. I'm not sure the city has that expertise on the pay roll at this time." Kris Michell, the mayor's deputy chief operating officer for community and legislative services, also offered an opinion. "I have strong concerns about the process." In spite of those reservations, by last summer Matt McGarvey, the City's chief of information technology, seemed to be plowing full speed ahead. After an August 7 meeting with the City, EarthLink's Salinger wrote, "I will send to Matt later today a non-binding Term Sheet. I will forward the generic agreement to him later this week."
By February 28 of this year, a deal seemed close. "EarthLink is interested in scheduling a couple of marathon meetings in order to reach consensus on agreement terms with the City," wrote the City's Marc Jaffe. "Specifically, they have a new lead negotiator, Ms. Beverly McIntosh, who will be residing in San Diego for these discussions as well as their attorney who will fly out from Atlanta to meet with our team."
But by then, McGarvey's ardor had somehow cooled. "My schedule is pretty rough," he e-mailed Jaffe the same day. "I also need to update you on my conversations with Kris Michell regarding the EarthLink deal." He provided no other details. Since then, according to a source at city hall, there has been virtually no movement on the proposal. Ostensibly the deal is still on the table and McGarvey is talking to EarthLink on the phone, according to a City source, but no other documents have emerged to characterize the progress of the negotiations or the mayor's current Wi-Fi policy, if one even exists.