Google offers WiFi to Mountain View

I wrote last month that I thought Google was likely to offer to install free WiFi in more Bay Area cities. Now the company has offered to do just that in Mountain View (a city north of San Jose and site of Google’s headquarters).

You can view the Mountain View city manager’s summary of the proposal, and a letter from Google, in a PDF file here. A couple of interesting tidbits:

The city manager writes: “Deployment in Mountain View is considered a test network for Google to learn…future possible deployment to other cities and in other countries.” (My emphasis.) I wonder where Mountain View got the idea that Google wants to deploy WiFi outside the Bay Area.

Google writes: “We believe that free (or very cheap) Internet access is a key to bridging the digital divide and providing access to underprivileged and less served communities.” Okay, I believe that too -- but if you know Mountain View you’ll know that the main digital divide there is between people who have DSL and people who have cable modems. If you want to bridge a real digital divide, offer WiFi for someplace like Oakland or East Palo Alto. But then you’d probably need to offer those people computers as well.

Google wrote: “In our self-interest, we believe that giving more people the ability to access the Internet will drive more traffic to Google and hence more revenue to Google and its partner websites.” The San Jose Mercury-News called that “unusual candor,” but I’d call it an understatement. If Google had said, “we’re planning to create a bunch of new for-fee services that we’ll promote like maniacs through the landing page,” that would have been unusual candor. As Mountain View’s summary states, “the agreement does allow Google in the future to charge a fee for enhanced services.”

I think it would be healthy for Google to come clean about this stuff. There’s nothing cities and users have to fear from new Google’s new services, as long as they Google doesn’t create a closed garden, and Google promises to keep the network open. (Although you would need a Google ID to log in, and the service would take you first to a Google landing page.)

My questions: When will Google make that offer to the city where I live, San Jose? And why in the world is the San Jose City Council planning to spend $100,000 down and $60,000 a year of taxpayer money to build a WiFi network serving a small chunk of downtown when Google’s offering to serve whole cities for free?