Plans for a citywide fiber-optic network may be on hiatus, but Google is looking into other ways to grow internet access in Mountain View. The search-engine giant is cutting the city an $800,000 check to expand free public WiFi through the downtown area.
The tech giant has a checkered history with attempting to expand internet access to its hometown. Back in 2006, the company launched its own Google WiFi system, a network of about 560 light pole-mounted nodes providing free hookups to households throughout the city. Users initially found the service dazzling, but later disappointing. About five years in, complaints began mounting that the WiFi was unbearably slow and unpredictable, and prone to complete service blackouts.
In 2014, Google decided to scuttle the system. The company gave Mountain View a $500,000 technology grant to fund a third-party company to take over the wireless hubs downtown. At the time, the setup was portrayed as temporary since the company was beginning talks to bring its much-faster Google Fiber service to Mountain View.
Fast forward to 2016 and not much has changed. In May, Google officials signed an agreement with Mountain View and other South Bay cities to install the fiber-optic service, but there's been no action since then. In October, the company announced it was hitting the brakes on its plans to bring Google Fiber to most cities.
Mountain View officials say the new $800,000 check from Google will be used to expand the existing downtown WiFi system. Roger Jensen, Mountain View's information-technology director, said the city will work with a contractor to add about 40 new wireless hubs downtown to provide exclusive bandwidth for the city. The new expanded service area will go along Castro Street, from El Camino Real to Evelyn Avenue.
Google officials did not return calls for this story, but a spokesman noted in an email that Mountain View is the only city receiving this grant money.