Investors with ties to the CIA, Bechtel and the bin Laden family are restoring the hopes some San Franciscans once held for low-cost, citywide wireless internet access.
Meraki Networks, a company run by two college kids on a break from their MIT studies, recently announced it will receive $20 million in funding to support its plans for expansion in San Francisco.
Meraki will sell and distribute its radio relay devices to homeowners and apartment dwellers, who can stick the devices in their windows to form neighborhood wireless networks that automatically configure themselves.
As with muni Wi-Fi, Meraki’s mesh networks offer the promise of free, unfettered access to the internet for the poor.
But the startup’s new investors also have a taste for intrigue.
Some of Meraki’s new capital, for example, will come from DAG Ventures, a firm co-founded by former investment partners from Bechtel. Their division, formerly known as Bechtel Investments, is now partly owned by the bin Laden family. (The new investment firm, San Francisco-based Fremont Group, remains largely in the hands of the Bechtel family.)
As parallelnormal readers well know, San Francisco’s original muni Wi-Fi scheme had a whiff of corruption about it. The city’s plans eventually proved too expensive for its business partners, particularly Earthlink, which recently abandoned the project.
Google’s offer to tack surveillance cameras on light posts, while installing Wi-Fi routers around town, was also poorly received by West Coast privacy watchdogs.
Some will are likely to ask whether DAG’s support for wireless networks will come with strings attached.
DAG is also backing, along with the CIA, the San Francisco-based camera surveillance and intelligence gathering company, 3VR Security.
But DAG’s ties to the intel community run deeper than a handful of startups.
One of DAG’s co-founders, John M. Duff, Jr., sits on the executive committee of the World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C., along with former CIA chief R. James Woolsey, and many other prominent former spies and diplomats.
And one of WAC’s organizational predecessors, the League of Free Nations Association, was heavily promoted by H.G. Wells and other powerful individuals in the years immediately following Word War I. The association’s backers saw it as an antidote to the “isolationism” many people advocated after the war, as a way to avoid a similar horror show in the future.