MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—Search giant Google Inc. took a big step Tuesday night toward becoming an Internet service provider.
A clearly smitten Mountain View city council on Tuesday unanimously ratified a five-year property lease that Google needs to begin building a wireless network in the city.
"There's no free lunch," said Mountain View Councilmember Tom Means. "But maybe Google will buy us one tonight."
Lunch? No. But any city would be hard-pressed to turn down Google's offer. Mountain View won't have to spend any money; rather, Google promises to fund all the construction and run the operation. And Google plans to give away access to anyone with the right gear, and a free Google account. As a bonus, city employees, including emergency service workers, will get a secured connection of their own, again at no cost to the city.
Google has even promised to add wireless access to the Google Mobile, a mobile library the city expects to soon take possession. In addition, the city gets an option to buy the network in the future.
The vote Tuesday is a major step for Google, which has earlier acknowledged it wants to build its own Internet network, thus challenging the incumbent broadband operators' stranglehold on the Internet service provider market. So far, Google is leaning toward using Wi-Fi, an inexpensive and popular technology for distributing Internet access through the air rather than through cables. But it has yet to make a final decision.
Google will now use this city to gain the real-world experience with just such a network before fully committing, it says. Following Tuesday's unanimous vote, Google plans to immediately start building a Wi-Fi network and expects to complete construction in about two months, according to Christopher Sacca, a Google principal.
While seemingly perfunctory in nature, Google's interaction with Mountain View has a lot of significance both for Google and similar private company/government partnerships involving Wi-Fi networks in other cities.
For one, Google is providing insight into what it thinks it'll take to forge a successful relationship with local governments. A friendly working partnership is important because governments usually own the infrastructure key to a service provider's plans. In Google's case, it's the city streetlight posts, upon which Google wants to affix nearly 300 Wi-Fi radios.
The interaction has also unveiled a few morsels of Google's Wi-Fi secrets. At Tuesday's meeting, Sacca inferred that Google will offer two varieties of Internet access: one that will be free and available to anyone registering for a Google account and one that will have a fee because it will have special features, such as a higher bandwidth.
Google has also disclosed in correspondence with Mountain View officials that it will provide wireless users with real-time road traffic conditions. And it is at work on "local commerce innovations" that may include geographically targeted advertising.
In addition, Google is going to encourage people to secure their connections, either through a free virtual private network connection from Google or others it'll make available from outside vendors.