If ever there was a way into this tech-driven city's heart, the gift of lightning-fast Internet connections has to be high on the list, and Google knows it. That undoubtedly is why Mountain View's signature company made a formal offer last week to provide ultra-fast free wireless Internet along the Castro Street corridor and promised to install a network of even faster connections under the city's neighborhood streets.
All of this was promised in an announcement by Google and City Manager Dan Rich that, if carried out, will install miles of fiber-optic cable throughout the city's 12 square miles. In addition, Google also said it will provide the city a $500,000-grant to fund technology that is accessible to the public, presumably to make up for the funds the city spent recently to install WiFi at City Hall. The fiber-optic cable will allow data to travel at the speed of light, or in technical terms, 1,024 megabits (1 gigabit) per second, which is said to be 100 times faster than average and is fast enough to download an entire movie in less than two minutes.
The entire package would cost the company millions of dollars and make Mountain View one of 34 cities nationwide selected as test locations for Google fiber. Other California cities include Palo Alto, San Jose, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara. The company's chief financial officer said that the fiber initiative is "not a hobby" for Google, which he thinks will be profitable. In Provo, Utah and Kansas City, sites of the initial roll-out, speeds of 1 gigabit per second costs $70 a month, while current average broadband speed is free, although a one-time "construction fee" can be up to $300.
As far as inexpensive Internet connections go, such a system would replace the now woefully inadequate WiFi rolled out with much fanfare by Google in 2006, which for its time was a remarkable network that provided free WiFi service to most Mountain View neighborhoods. The line-of-sight signal came from 500 WiFi nodes installed on city-owned light poles, creating a system that was designed to be available throughout the city. Although residents needed to install amplifiers to boost the signal to bring it indoors, the number of unique users grew to 25,000 a month in 2012, when the service began to have serious issues.
Google claimed that the Internet outgrew the system, due largely to streaming movies and other major download pressures. As Google's gift began to turn sour, residents complained of spotty or nonexistent service. Efforts by the company to make repairs did not help and in recent years the system proved to be more of a liability for Google than the gift the company had hoped it would be.
Now the plan is to quickly install a new WiFi system downtown and soon after, phase out the old WiFi service, after giving 60 days' notice to its remaining customers. Google Fiber is more than a year away, so in some parts of Mountain View residents will have to go back to providing their own WiFi service with providers like AT&T and Comcast.
Such a fiber network will be a force for other Internet service providers to contend with, or be left in the dust. Google may have started out slowly with WiFi nodes mounted on light poles, but if the company's plans are realized, it could wind up bringing Mountain View the fastest access to the Internet available anywhere in the country.