Google trades new WiFi for old system

Service will be limited to outdoors in downtown area only

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"

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."


Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Feb 26, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Good riddance to the old WiFi system. Contrary to the article above, it really hasn't worked consistently since 2011 (not 2012) and there have been many outages.

Let's hope for a swift removal of the existing network, which doesn't really work even downtown (the last area of actual availability).

The current system is wasting Mountain View taxpayer dollars; I can stand directly under a node mounted on a city-owned light pole, connect to the WiFi transmitter and still get zero Internet connectivity.

That's a waste of electricity to the WiFi transmitter, plus a drain on battery power to my device.

The original Google WiFi was realistically useful between 2006-2010. By late 2010/early 2011, there were enough node issues where the network was no longer reliable (and Google WiFi-provided connectivity at the library was frequently out of service).

It has been an absolute travesty for about 3 years.

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Feb 26, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Note that the early signs of Google WiFi's problems came in 2009.

Web Link

The system deteriorated and Google promised to take measures to improve the system over a year ago

Web Link

yet nothing happened.

I give this newly proposed high-speed downtown-only Google WiFi network three years of optimal performance before it starts going down the tubes.

Like this comment
Posted by Dejan
a resident of Bailey Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 1:34 pm

I only hope that the new system will not require a login through Google services. Donating infrastructure is great, but if usage requires eveyone to donate their data to Google it should not be misrepresented or advertised as "free". That would be like an open bar that requires a blood sample to get a drink.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm

I strongly urge the City Council to find a way to get Google to provide an alternative to home internet connectivity from Comcast and AT&T. Comcast and AT&T charge too much for a slow connection -- we need competition to provide us with better connectivity so we can stream video and other data quickly.

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Many free WiFi services have required some sort of registration procedure, whether it be WiFi Rail (on BART) or some WAPs sponsored by businesses. Remember that whoever is running the WiFi router can see network traffic anyhow.

The current Google WiFi network does not require any sort of registration; the old/defunct secure version of Google WiFi did require a Google account to get a secure network password.

If you are terribly paranoid, you should just create another Google account (solely for connecting to Google WiFi) and then use VPN to cloak your activities.

Remember, even if the open bar doesn't require a blood sample, they still know what you're drinking. After all, they are providing the drinks. If you don't want a particular bartender to know what you're drinking, you need to go to a different bar.

Anyhow, perhaps we should just wait to see what Google does. I'm expecting nothing at this point, yet am hoping for the best.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Big
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 27, 2014 at 2:44 pm

25,000 unique visitors per month just got SOLD OUT for a few hundred downtown residents.... and at ~$50/mo. it's a million dollar monthly gift to AT&T and Comcast.

Do NOT vote for any of the city council members as they all sold out.

Go Yahoo! I will no longer be promoting any Google service.

Like this comment
Posted by Maher
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Feb 27, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Maher is a registered user.

This "solution" sounds like gobbledyygook to me... and a boondoggle for Google.

Publicly elected officials now routinely cave in, in favor of corporate spin rather than fighting for real services to their constiutents. This dynamic is rampant in DC and I guess has spread to our city as well.

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 4:12 pm

@Mr. Big:

The error with your analysis is that a free WiFi service in the downtown corridor would not just be accessible to residents. It would be accessible to anyone with a properly equipped WiFi device who visited that area, whether they be from Los Altos, Los Angeles, Paris (Texas) or Paris (France).

The 25000 unique monthly users does not equate to 25000 Mountain View residents. It includes everyone who used the system either once or a hundred times.

Several years ago, I would have connected to Google WiFi in dozens of spots within Mountain View, yet I would count as *ONE* unique visitor, regardless if I was connecting from home or at some coffee shop downtown.

Like this comment
Posted by GetReal!
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2014 at 4:15 pm


What are you complaining about? It was Free. It worked OK.
It was never meant to replace a real ISP! I wouldn't want to use it for anything secure...

I live in Mt. View. I was occasionally able to use Google WiFi when sitting outside, or at a restaurant, and it was usually OK.
It was a blessing to have it when I needed it.

Stop complaining about the quality of your FREE gift - it's not polite. If you don't like it, don't use it.

Just don't complain about it.

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 7:25 pm


Yes, your viewpoint is correct. Until it comes down to the services that Google promised in key locations, like the library.

Google WiFi has been largely unreliable in the Mountain View Library *FOR OVER THREE YEARS*, even when the original promise was that Google would provide those services.

It was not an entirely free gift, Google made promises that it did not keep. With this sort of track record, it is unsurprising that some MV Voice readers are skeptical about Google's ability to deliver what they agree to in a timely manner.

Note that Google acknowledged service weaknesses well over a year ago in the WiFi network that they had offered to the community, promised to fix it, then did nothing.

Personally, I would have preferred that the City select a utilities provider who had some sort of accountability of service quality.

Mountain View citizens have every right to complain about Google WiFi, at least in the instances when it relates to *COMMUNITY SERVICES THAT GOOGLE PROMISED -- LIKE LIBRARY WIFI CONNECTIVITY".

Like this comment
Posted by DDD
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 27, 2014 at 9:10 pm

@Jay Park

Sounds like a great idea! We should certainly kick out Google and select a new wifi provider. And how much extra tax are you willing to pay to fund this venture?


You don't actually think that there's a queue of competitors lining up to give us something for free do you?

Of course it's an entirely free gift. If it's not free then what are they getting paid with?

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:18 pm

What is Google getting for the "free" wi-fi??

Uhhhh...carte blanche on a Shoreline area mega-expansion while burdening the city with a legal obligation to destroy our city's livability through allowing high density housing!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Feb 28, 2014 at 7:50 am


We don't need to increase taxes to provide useful and reliable WiFi at key city locations like the Library, Senior Center, Teen Center, etc. There's enough money in the budget to do it; the city has already replaced the long-cursed Google WiFi node in the library with another vendor.

The point is that the City should consider alternative service providers for those key city locations. Heck, I really don't care who provides the public access downtown corridor WiFi service.

We know who provides it now and we know how well it runs. That same vendor is vying to provide a "new" version of their *COUGH COUGH* service. It's a pretty sweet deal for said vendor, as they are getting preferential treatment from the council concerning development rights.

The vendor can throw up a slapdash WiFi network that'll run for 3-4 years, ignore it, then let it deteriorate to uselessness over another three years, then propose to solve the issue by throwing up a new slapdash effort. It's a onetime charge that happens every 7-8 years for the vendor. Amortized over time, it's an absolute bargain for the vendor.

Like this comment
Posted by enzo
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 28, 2014 at 9:58 am

Don't expect quality service from google in MV as they have proven the opposite. The city council needs to up their game to support residents over the evil empire.

Like this comment
Posted by DDD
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 28, 2014 at 10:07 am

@Jay Park

You don't see the cost difference in providing wifi at a few key locations versus the entire Mountain View? Google's cost structure is as competitive as anyone. If they won't provide it for free, then neither will anyone else.

As for the "sweet" deal for preferential treatment from the council concerning development rights, it is so sweet that that the council torpedoed Google' North Bayshore housing plan, and won't even study the proposed bridge to NASA. If this is what a "sweet" deal looks like...

Like this comment
Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 28, 2014 at 10:30 am

Give up on Google wifi, hope for Google fiber to every address in Mountain View, soon I hope, then Comcast will have to upgrade or begin to loose out.

Like this comment
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Feb 28, 2014 at 10:44 am

Google's and its promises...

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

Like this comment
Posted by DC
a resident of North Whisman
on Feb 28, 2014 at 9:43 pm

Free is not worth it price when the it block other from setting up a working system. Let us hope Google's next venture with the city works out better and for Sunnyvale and Moffet field.

Like this comment
Posted by GStrategy
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 2, 2014 at 2:03 pm

DC...good point when you wrote, "Free is not worth it price when the it block other from setting up a working system. "

People like to say that Google is altruistic because they have a "Don't be evil" motto. However, they also want to dominate the tech industry. I don't think those are compatible.

Google likes to acquire companies to get at their talent, but they also buy companies simply to keep them out of their competitor's hands (MSFT, FB, Apple). They don't really care about the business, so what happens? They squeeze what they can out of it in terms of technology and users and then the talent in the company either gets transferred to other Google projects or they leave in disgust. Then, the product gets sidelined and eventually canceled.

Google has acquired some great products that were very useful to me, sidelined them and shut them down. Sorry, but that's just evil!

So, yeah... let's keep an eye on what they want to do with wifi and fiber. The city should make sure we have ironclad maintenance contracts in place. Otherwise, there's no reason to think they won't abandon us again.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Big
a resident of Slater
on Mar 2, 2014 at 5:34 pm

I am thankful for the free WiFi for the first 5 years... But, they signed-up for another 5 years and said they were going to fix the problems with the Google WiFi system (which they never fixed). Then, two years late they said "we want out" of providing free WiFi and "we're not going to honor our previous commitment: (this is what makes me angry).

If Google had simply said after 5 years that they no longer wanted to run the system and that MV could now run it if they chose to do so then I would have been happy to continue to support Google. We live in Silicon Valley, we are the technology experts for the world... Do you really think we didn't have the expertise to fix the Google WiFi system?

Now they want to the city to bend over backward to provide for-profit Internet access. Why would anyone sign-up for a $70 per month service if they were satisfied with the FREE system? Google needed to kill Google WiFi in order to boost demand for Google Fiber.

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