The company's six-year-old WiFi, designed long before Neflix and Hulu were gobbling up bandwidth, has apparently been overwhelmed by a flood of traffic, and in many locations, simply shuts down.
But despite their frustrations, the company says residents should hold on while Google completes work on making things better.
Communications consultant 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."
This is a promise that we hope the company can keep. Free WiFi downtown and in other residential areas has been a gift from Google that many residents can experience while saving a small, but significant, amount of money every month. For those not lucky enough to land a good-paying job at Google, free WiFi has been a wonderful way to connect with the company, which is by far the city's largest employer.
And although free WiFi can be a wonderful thing, when service is cut off or not available at all after working fine for five or six years, it hurts the company's image. Those who who depend on the WiFi to connect to the web have been critical of the service.
R. Michael said in a letter to the Voice that access to Google WiFi has not been available for a month. The service was still not working even after several calls were made to Google about the issue.
Google maintains a stellar reputation worldwide for its speedy search engine and many other products and services. But it appears that Mountain View WiFi got away from them and now needs a lot of work to restore confidence and reliability in the system.
When the company announced in August of 2006 that it was moving ahead on building a WiFi network it cited the "overwhelming positive" feedback from over a thousand testers as a good reason to go forward. Its $1 million investment was enough to purchase nearly 400 nodes that each broadcast the WiFi signal about 500 feet. The company rents space on the city's utility poles for $36 apiece or $13,680 a year. It was a good system, with users saying it compared with DSL connection, the most common alternative at the time. Outside, reception near the Voice office, then at the corner of Hope Street and Evelyn Avenue, worked well as long as a wall or tree canopy was not in the way. Inside was more difficult, where connecting became spotty at best, although devices that attached to outside windows were available at the time to boost reception.
But with Internet traffic so much heavier these days, Google is facing a big job to restore the reputation of its free WiFi in Mountain View. It is a service the company does not offer in other locations, which we hope will make it easier to upgrade. With the explosive growth of smart phones, iPads and video streaming services, demand for bandwidth is going to skyrocket here in the years ahead. We just hope Google is ready, because the need is already here. Free WiFi is a wonderful gift to the city, but once the promise is made, the company needs to stand behind its offer.