A San Francisco city panel yesterday announced that it has selected a bid from search-engine giant Google and EarthLink as the best candidate to build out a Wi-Fi network throughout the city.

The Google/EarthLink bid has been monitored closely throughout the broadband community because Google has indicated that it will provide wireless Internet access for free to users willing to receive Google-sold advertisements. In addition to this free-access model, EarthLink will provide significantly better data rates to subscribers paying about $20 per month, according to media reports.

San Francisco’s five-member TechConnect Committee reportedly chose the Google/EarthLink bid over offers from five other finalists: Communication Bridge Global; NextWLAN; Razortooth Communications LLP; MetroFi and SF Metro Connect, a partnership that includes SeaKay, Cisco Systems Inc. and IBM Corp.

Tolpegin said he hopes contract negotiations will begin “relatively soon” but declined to speculate when a deal might be reached.

“What cities want to get out of these networks really varies from city to city—some are more public-safety focused, while others have more of a digital-inclusion focus,” Tolpegin said. “We won’t really understand that until we’ve sat down face-to-face with the city.”