The end is near for the city's aging Google WiFi system, City Council members decided Tuesday.
Residents who are still using the failing system of 563 light pole-mounted nodes have 60 days to find a new Internet service, according to the plan approved by a unanimous council vote. The city and Google have reached an agreement to install a new Wifi system that serves the downtown only. The agreement includes a $500,000 technology grant while officials are beginning talks for a Google Fiber network installed throughout Mountain View, allowing Internet connections fast enough to download a feature-length movie in under two minutes, though at a price.
Council members thanked Google for the gift of WiFi to the city, even though some residents have been expressing irritation at its unreliability, with one resident even calling it a "colossal joke on Mountain View" after it took a major turn for the worse in 2012, when usage had grown to 25,000 unique users a month. Many residents had bought special signal repeaters to bring the network indoors.
"You wanted the data and we got the WiFi, and I think it was great," said council member Jac Siegel of the 2006 Google WiFi network, though he did not say what sort of data he was referring to. "It was an experiment. You got enough data to push things forward."
The $500,000 grant is apparently part of the deal because Google no longer wanted to be responsible for maintaining the WiFi system it had originally installed in city buildings, such as the library, where user complaints were common.
"They are not interested in maintaining or operating those systems," in city buildings, said City Manager Dan Rich. A city staff report added, "Google had also offered a hot spot for Rengstorff Park, but for technical reasons, that service will be covered by a grant to the city."
The new downtown WiFi system will cover 18 city blocks shown on a map to City Council members, roughly bordered by the edges of the train station to the north, El Camino Real to the south, Hope Street to the east and Franklin Street to the west. Service will probably "bleed" into surrounding areas, Rich said. It was also stressed that this WiFi network is meant for outdoor use only, just like the 2006 network was.
Council member Margaret Abe-Koga noted the "customer support issues" residents had with Google WiFi before, which amounted to an online forum and a voicemail box where residents could leave complaints.
Google's Veronica Bell said there would be better support this time around.
"It was the first time any company has ever tried anything like that," said Bell on Tuesday about the 2006 Google Wifi network. "This time we have a product group devoted to this. There will be some support, it will show up on the web page wifi.google.com."
Council members also discussed the possibility of Google Fiber coming to Mountain View, which they learned would be treated like any other utility wanting to run lines under the city's streets. It is already being offered in Provo, Utah and Kansas City, where 1 gigabit speeds -- "100 times faster than average" -- cost $70 a month and a service comparable to current average speeds is free, with a one time construction fee of up to $300.
"We are actually becoming a third world country in terms of Internet," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "In Sweden they are at gigabit speeds up and down at a quarter of the cost of what we pay for 6 megabytes up and down. Comcast won't put in fiber because there's no competition to make them do it."
City Manager Rich said there was "no merit" to a Wall Street Journal report claiming that Mountain View had turned down Google Fiber because it would mean no fees for use of city right-of-ways.
"Mountain View is actively engaging with Google Fiber to determine if it will work here," Rich said in an email. "We would expect that, should it work, they would be treated like any other utility doing the same thing in terms of the use of the right of way, payment of permit fees, franchise fees, etc."