Mtn. View Accepts Google's Offer of Free WiFi

From The San Jose Mercury News via Dewayne's list

Posted on Wed, Nov. 16, 2005

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Mtn. View accepts Google's offer of free WiFi By Renee Koury Mercury News

With hometown Internet star Google offering to blanket Mountain View with free wireless Internet access, the city is leaping ahead of neighbors in the race to be Silicon Valley's most tech-savvy town.

City leaders unanimously accepted Google's offer Tuesday night to make Mountain View the first city in the Bay Area -- and possibly the country -- to get a full umbrella of free WiFi coverage. Google will install as many as 400 transmitters the size of a shoe box on streetlamps throughout the city.

As part of a five-year contract starting by June, Google will test the system, which will link wireless-ready laptops to the Internet in most of the city. In a matter of months, surfing the Web with a wireless laptop should be possible from a sidewalk cafe on Castro Street. But a paddleboat at Shoreline Park might be problematic -- unless it's near a streetlamp.

"It's going to make us one of the first, if not the first, to have citywide Internet . It's a pretty cool thing," Mayor Matt Neely said. "We're thrilled for all our neighbor cities who get to follow our lead."

The council's gleeful approval came despite concerns over radiation and privacy. Google maintains the radiation level is far below federal limits and that of most cell phones. The company also offered assurances about protecting users' information.

While cities across the Bay Area are moving ahead with plans to offer wide swaths of free WiFi coverage, the Google deal propels Mountain View into the spotlight. San Francisco is considering a similar offer from Google to test free WiFi citywide. San Jose officials recently approved a deal to link their downtown to free wireless access, as well as community centers and branch libraries.

Palo Alto has plenty of WiFi hot spots, especially downtown. But the city is on a different quest to become the first in the Bay Area to bring a fiber-optic connection to every home. The big sticking point has been the estimated cost of $40 million.

"It would be nice to have the free Internet for those who want it, but wireless can only do certain things," Palo Alto City Councilman Bern Beecham said.

Instead, he said, the city is more interested in pursuing fiber-optics, which can provide residents with far greater digital possibilities such as downloads of movies and large computer files. The plan is scheduled to come up in January when new council members take office.

Mountain View leaders say it's only fitting that their city get free citywide Internet access, since Google sprouted in its back yard and has grown to become one of the world's most powerful Internet search engines.

"We are in the birthplace, the heart and soul of Silicon Valley, so not to have citywide WiFi is almost embarrassing," City Councilman Mike Kasperzak said. "It's great for people who live here, who work here, who want to go sit downtown and log on, and to some degree it's helping Google test out a theory."

But Google warns the signal may weaken behind walls, and users might need extra equipment that costs up to $100 to improve reception.

Google already has set up test centers at Kapp's Pizza Bar and Grill on Castro Street in Mountain View and Airborne Gymnastics in Santa Clara. Most customers at Kapp's didn't even realize they could turn on their laptops and be online for free. The exception was Huberto Acevedo, 26, of San Jose, whose father owns Kapp's. He was sitting in a corner browsing the Internet and viewing e-mail.

"I think it'd be really convenient to have this everywhere," said Acevedo, who likes to hunt for automotive parts online. "But I wonder how it will be to have all those radio waves everywhere. We already have transmitters for cell phones and TV and PDAs, and the sun's pretty damaging, too. It makes you wonder about health."

Some residents wondered the same thing. A flurry of e-mails between residents and city council members this week brought up a range of concerns about Google's seemingly innocuous offer. Some said the hundreds of transmitters, about 20 to 30 per square mile, would emit radio waves with unknown health effects. Others had privacy concerns, saying Google might track their Web browsing and use it to sell tailored advertising.

City leaders say that's beyond their realm; their involvement is limited to letting Google rent the city's street lamps for $12,600 a year to place transmitters. People who don't want to use the Google network system can simply opt out; users will have to take the initiative to log on.

Citywide WiFi is expected to bring more customers to downtown since people can get work done while they dine, or between errands.

"This is really about the city enabling people to do WiFi and for those who want it, it seems like a desirable service," said Elaine Costello, the city's community development director. "It's not like it's going to be a requirement."

Google is also testing its WiFi idea at Rockefeller Center in New York and Union Square in San Francisco.

In its offer, Google product manager Minnie Ingersoll said the company wants to use Mountain View as a test site to learn more about the cost and the challenges of building and supporting a wireless network, with the ultimate aim of driving more traffic to Google.

With 1,000 employees living in Mountain View, Google said it was a good place to test services and products and understand its emerging technology. The company also said free wireless gives access to people who can't afford monthly Internet fees.

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John F. McMullen

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Dewayne adds:

o Here's a pointer to an entry from David Isenberg's blog on a town in Pepperell, MA that has covered itself with a wireless cloud. David points out that he thinks that municipal wireless has now passed the 'tipping point':

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o Here's a pointer to a project that I'm involved with in New Mexico. In this case, a county rather then a city is being covered:

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I'll leave the tipping point call to others, but one thing is clear, you're going to see a continuous stream of articles and news on similar rollouts across the country from now on.

-- Dewayne

Direct replies are unlikely to be read. To reply use the address below: falco(underscore)md(atsign)yahoo(dot)co(dot)uk

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: And, needless to say, SBC (the telco) is fit to be tied about it. The more people who get involved with municipal WiFi means fewer folks need to use SBC internet DSL, and that, says telco, is Bad News. Here in Independence, our local McDonalds Restaurant offers free WiFi to their customers, but in actual practice the signal is good enough it can be picked up anywhere on 10th Street between Main Street to the south and Laurel Street to the north, about two city blocks along 10th Street. A half-block of that area is the McDonalds, but you can sit in a car in the parking lot at Marvins store and recieve it also, as well as _sometimes_ catty-corner in the Arco Building parking lot on 9th Street. PAT]
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Marcus Didius Falco
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