Mountain View Voice

News - July 26, 2013

Google makes more WiFi promises

by Daniel DeBolt

As Google announces that it will be providing free WiFi internet access in San Francisco's parks, Google's Mountain View WiFi network remains dogged by problems that the company promised to fix in February. According to Google, some kind of change really is in the works for Mountain View's system and it may be announced "shortly."

In 2009 and again in February, Google acknowledged that the network of over 500 streetlight-mounted nodes in Mountain View was in need of a major upgrade. Complaints poured into the Voice and the Google WiFi users forum about longtime outages in certain neighborhoods, corrupted data and slow connections that often rendered the network useless for residents, problems that users say became more pronounced in December of 2012.

In February, Google spokeswoman Jenna Wandres told the Voice, "We are working on a plan to add more bandwidth and make connections easier. We're committed to it. We're working on all sorts of upgrades. We want our users to be able to enjoy all the rich content that's available online."

Five months later Google has yet to report any changes, and some residents are agitated.

"Google's position on nation-wide free WiFi is not credible when they can't even run it in their own small home city," wrote resident Stefan Strommer in an email.

According to Google, city officials are involved in discussions about the fate of the Google Wifi.

"We understand that there are challenges with our free WiFi network in Mountain View," Google spokeswoman Katelin Jabbari said in an email to the Voice. "The network was created over seven years ago and wasn't built to support the current usage. We are researching options regarding the future of our WiFi network in Mountain View and have reached out to discuss these options with city of Mountain View staff. We hope to have additional information available to share with our users shortly."

The backbone of the system installed in 2006 has apparently reached its bandwidth capacity as use of the network has grown, with 25,000 users of the network every month over the last year, up from 19,000 in 2009. Typical users are requiring more bandwidth to download files and stream video on sites like Hulu and Netflix.

In San Francisco, the city has agreed to take on the cost of maintaining the network after two years. It will be available in 31 parks in San Francisco by next spring.

Whether the city could take on the network's future maintenance remains to be seen. Mayor John Inks and City Manager Dan Rich did not respond to requests for comment by the Voice's press deadline Wednesday.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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