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Google joins bid for WiFi in Calif.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Google Inc. is joining EarthLink Inc. in a bid to build a wireless network in San Francisco that would offer basic Internet access for free and charge about $20 per month to surf the Web at higher speeds.

The partnership, revealed late Tuesday, represents the first time Google has acknowledged it wants help in its quest to provide free wireless service, or WiFi, throughout San Francisco, where the hills could make reliable Internet connections more difficult.

Google, which runs the Internet's leading search engine, and EarthLink, a major Internet service provider, had been bidding against each other but recently decided it made more sense to team up.

EarthLink would pay for most of the projected $15 million cost to build and maintain San Francisco's WiFi network over 10 years, said Don Berryman, its president of municipal networks.

EarthLink would recover some of its expenses by charging about $20 per month for Internet access about 20 times faster than dial-up service, Berryman said. Google's free WiFi would be about five to six times quicker than dial-up.

EarthLink has won a similar 10-year contract to provide WiFi coverage to Philadelphia. There, EarthLink will sell the service wholesale to Internet service providers for $9 per user per month.

In San Francisco, the Google-EarthLink bid is competing against five other proposals.

The free WiFi access would be financed by ads.

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