Google launches municipal Wi-Fi network in its own backyard

The Wi-Fi network Google Inc. builtfor Mountain View, Calif. becomes generally available on Wednesday,providing free broadband wireless access in this municipalitythat the search engine giant calls home.

Google’s network includes 380 access points throughout thiscity, which has about 72,000 residents and covers a 12-square milearea, said Chris Sacca, Google’s head of special initiatives.

It will offer 1M bps (bit per second) of throughput bothupstream and downstream, and that capacity can be increased ifnecessary, he said.

Google had been shooting for mid-September for the service’sofficial launch, but it wrapped up its final tests ahead of time.About 1,000 people participated in the service’s test phase, hesaid.

Starting Wednesday, people with Wi-Fi devices will be able topick up the Google network’s signal and sign in with their Googleaccount user ID and password.

Those who don’t have a Google account will be able to create oneby simply choosing a password and entering an e-mail address. Ifthey don’t have an e-mail address, they will be able to create oneas well, he said.

Google has no plans to deliver online ads to the network’s usersand it isn’t charging the city anything for building the network.In fact, the city stands to receive payments from Google for theplacement of equipment on city-owned light poles, Mountain Viewofficials have said in the past. Moreover, Google will cover maintenance and utility costs.

“We have no business plan for this network,” Sacca said. Googlehopes to benefit indirectly by the increased availability ofInternet access, and it believes it is contributing to its homecity, where more than 1,000 of its employees live, he said.

People should be able to reach the network inside their homes,to some degree. “Wi-Fi signals are irregular and hard to predict,so coverage varies depending on where you are, how close the nodehappens to be and what your house is made of,” Sacca said.

Residents can buy inexpensive repeater devices to boost andextend the reception inside their homes, he said.

San Francisco, about 40 miles north of Mountain View, has chosenGoogle and partner EarthLink Inc. to provide municipal Wi-Fiservice. The companies have proposed a two-tiered service:EarthLink would offer a paid subscription service with speeds over1M bps (bits per second) and Google would offer a 300K bps servicefor free. The companies are currently in negotiations with the cityon the terms of the agreement.

The free service is expected to include ads, and this hastriggered criticism from civil liberties advocates who areconcerned that users’ privacy may be compromised if ads aretargeted based on their location and interests. Meanwhile, othershave complained the city isn’t allocating funding to helplow-income users take advantage of the network.

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