We know a bit more tonight about Google’s WiFi plans. Google was one of a bunch of companies that submitted proposals to the city of San Francisco tonight – the deadline was 5 p.m. – to build a community broadband network. Google’s service would be free to most users.

Google officials said they view San Francisco as an ideal test-bed for applications and services they want to work on, especially targeted advertising

“This goes hand-in-hand with what we do,” Chris Sacca, who handles new business devleopment for Google, told us. “Now we have to learn what works and what doesn’t work.”

Google’s proposal calls for a “mesh” wireless network that would use 20 to 30 “access radio points” per square mile – or more than a thousand city-wide – on telephone poles and rooftops thoughout the city. Google told the city its only requirement would be access to the poles and rooftops, which it would reimbuse the city for at “fair market value.” The mesh would be made up of overlapping cells that allow users to roam throughout the city without losing WiFI access.

Google stressed that it has no plans to offer free WiFi in any other cities.

“We have a lot of employees who work in San Francisco, we have a cooperative progressive-thinking mayor and we have a big digital divide here,” Sacca said in explaining the choice of San Francisco.

Several other companies submitted proposals as well, including Internet service provider Earthlink. One of the companies that turned in proposals was Feeva, a small company has a partnership with Google on two current WiFi hotspots in San Francisco. Feeva builds software that allows WiFi providers to serve targeted advertising to users. It’s one way that a company such as Google could recoup its costs.

Feeva is hoping to be able to partner with whichever company wins the city contract.

“What we’ve shown is that the economics definitely work,” said Nitin J. Shah, chairman and CEO of the company. “We would be able to build a system with enough revenues.”

Interestingly, San Francisco did not put out a formal “request for proposals,” or RFP, a more typical solicitation of proposals used by governments. Instead, it issued a “request for information” and comments, a seemingly less formal process. That seemed to indicate that the city was not yet ready to commit to a formal competitive bidding process. But the document includes language thay says the city could decide to start “discussions or negotiations with one or more prospective vendors or service providers that could lead to one or more contracts related to deployment of a Network.” In other words, it appears that SF may want to move quickly on this.

Om has a few more details on Google’s proposal.

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