Amid complaints, Google promises WiFi upgrades | February 1, 2013 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - February 1, 2013

Amid complaints, Google promises WiFi upgrades

by Daniel DeBolt

While Google says it is committed to improving its network of light-pole mounted WiFi nodes in Mountain View, some users say they are tired of how unreliable the free service has been.

Since 2006, residents have been pulling Google's free WiFi internet service into their homes using special signal repeaters, saving the expense of paying for an internet provider. But Google's service has never been as reliable as regular internet service, users say, and complaints appear to have increased recently.

A Google representative told the Voice that the company is planning upgrades that could improve the service's reliability.

Old Mill resident Kathleen Branyon says she and her neighbors have had little or no Google WiFi since Thanksgiving of 2011.

"Like many in Mountain View, we bought one of the recommended WiFi modems, and enjoyed free Google WiFi with virtually no hitches until October 2011," Branyon said in an email. "At that time, we began experiencing periodic service blackouts, without any warnings, lasting from a few minutes to several hours. Finally, just before Thanksgiving 2011, our neighborhood, along with several others, experienced a total blackout, which lasted until mid-January 2012."

She says service returned, but was "noticeably slower" before another blackout over the last three months.

Perhaps more frustrating is having a service that works much of the time, and quits unexpectedly. Branyon's frustrations mounted when her daughter's evening online homework was interrupted by Google WiFi failures. She says she would have to drive to her office in Palo Alto so her daughter could use the internet late at night, something that's happened multiple times.

"We will be in middle of an assignment — working, working, working — and all of the sudden, no internet," Branyon said. "Then we have to get in the car and go someplace so she can finish the assignment. That shouldn't happen."

To Whisman neighborhood resident Maria Venturini, the free service has definitely come with a cost. She said she was buying a plane ticket for her husband to fly to a funeral when the service stopped. When she was able to finally buy the plane ticket the next day, the price had gone up "several hundred dollars."

"When you depend on this service, it costs you money," Venturini said. "Most likely we'll have to get paid service because this is not working."

Google has created a hotline for users to call when their service cuts out. But Google does not return such calls, which agitates Branyon.

"They don't call you back, they don't care," she said, echoing a common complaint. "I think it's a colossal joke on the city of Mountain View."

Whole neighborhoods are having long Google WiFi blackouts, according to some complaints.

"I and a lot of other Googlers have not been able to access Google WiFi for a month," wrote R. Michael of Sylvan Avenue in a recent letter to the Voice. "The node at 600/700 block of Sylvan/DeVoto Avenues as well as other areas are not cooperating. I have made several calls to inform them of this issue and still we all do not have this service working, The Google name is being tarnished by this lack of assistance and professionalism."

For its part, Google is planning upgrades to the system that could make the network more reliable, said Jenna Wandres, Google communications associate. Users now demand more bandwidth to watch movies and TV shows over the network using sites like Hulu and Netflix, though use of the network hasn't increased recently, Wandres said. There were 25,000 users of the network every month over the last year, up from 19,000 in 2009, when upgrades were also promised by Google.

Google WiFi is "still operating based on its original design from six years ago," Wandres said. "Youtube and Netflix weren't as ubiquitous. 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."

Wandres couldn't comment on the specifics of why the network appears to be failing lately in some areas of the city.

And while those who are complaining are sure their hardware isn't the problem, some users have had better luck with newer WiFi modems. Google doesn't endorse any particular model.

"Obviously, the device you use to connect to web affects your web speed," Wandres said. "Older devices make your web connection slower generally."

Addressing suspicions that Google throttles the bandwidth of heavy users — such as those who watch movies on Netflix — Wandres said, "We don't have bandwidth caps."

And while Google has an agreement that would allow Google to offload responsibility of the network to the city under certain circumstances, there is "no plan to offload it to the city," Wandres said.

"We do have a team that's working on this," Wandres said. "We're committed to the network in Mountain View and we are going to make it better. We want people to enjoy the abundance of the internet."

For some users, it can't happen soon enough.

"This is how we communicate these days," Venturini said. "It's like if 30 years ago, your telephone lines were intermittently out. When you are cut off, it's your lifeline that's been cut off."

Email Daniel DeBolt at


Posted by Jeffrey H., a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 1, 2013 at 8:30 am

What a lot of light-weights live in this city. I use a 4G mobile hot spot when away from home. I get very fast, secure connections that way. When in the city, I use an EnGenius EUB9603H® USB wireless adapter for my netbook for Google wifi. The EnGenius model can be connected to any high gain antenna when needed and is extremely reliable. I only quote the name brand and model because of the far superior quality of the unit compared to nearly all others currently available on the market (and I have tried them all).

As far as telephone service, I never relied on telephones for anything. When I moved away from my parents house, I never signed up for phone service and still do not use one except for occasional use as required at work.

Online homework? What's up with that? Something is wrong if students need to go online to study or do homework. I got through high school and college with a science degree (which required lots of math trigonometry, analytic geometry, etc.) without any electronics. I found out the using a slide ruler and abacus were significantly faster than using calculators.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Feb 1, 2013 at 9:18 am

Jeffery, I think you missed the point of the potential benefits to the community of supplying free Wifi to the city, with the city's support. Maybe you need to move back into your parents' house and think about it. I'm glad you had the chance to receive an education and can afford all your gadgets.

Posted by Mom, a resident of The Crossings
on Feb 1, 2013 at 2:14 pm

"Online homework? What's up with that? Something is wrong if students need to go online to study or do homework."

You are thinking that schools function the same way they did when you went to school. Know what you're talking about before you make judgment.

Posted by Homeowner, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Branyon: "they don't call you back, they don't care"...what part of "free" do you not get?! You are not their customer! Do you purchase ads on Google? Do you pay for your gmail? Do you pay for anything. Why do you expect everything to be free? If you need to rely on the internet, you need to pay for a service, like just about everyone else.

Posted by markroy, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 1, 2013 at 5:12 pm

if the coffee shop or auto store or book store offered mt view residents something for free i would not expect to get anything less than what they normally do or there competition does. Reputation used to mean a business thrived or perished. Is Google not concerned? well then gosh thanks for treating us worse than others get. wasnt this supposed to be them showing appreciation to the city and its residents?

Posted by Mixed Views, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 1, 2013 at 5:32 pm

What a bunch of whiners. The real solution here is for people to use Google WiFi as a part-time, occasional supplement - NOT as their only Internet connection, and definitely not for streaming video.

I encourage Google to block Netflix, Amazon, and Google's own streaming video service in order to provide a higher-quality experience for a larger number of casual users. If it's technically feasible, Google should also put bandwidth limits on specific users. Another option would be to tell people that Google will intentionally have sporadic blackouts, so no one should count on this as being their only or even primary Internet connection.

This is all about showing some basic courtesy and sharing a free and limited resource. We would not tolerate someone parking their car in a way that blocks traffic - amd we shouldn't let heavy users ruin Google WiFi for everyone else.

Posted by Roberta Kerr, a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2013 at 1:22 am

Hi, I live at the Oaktree Commons neighborhood, please list this area to your neighborhood list. Several of us seniors used to use Google WiFi with Crome. In December 2012m Google instituted new security rules. My modem - a Ruckus - which was recommended by a Google represenative, all of a sudden was not allowed to connect anymore because it has a self signed security certificate. After jumping through every hoop I could find including going to the Google offices. Finally found out the problem is in Crome. Unlike IE, Crome dosen't have an Exception List for problems like self signed security certificates.

I'm glad Google is planning to update their system.

I'm sorry I will no longer be using wifi. I'm going to pay $20/month to get a 4G system so I can watch Netflix and UTube and other sites that need higher data download speeds.

The final straw for me was not being able to talk to anybody at Google. No answer to any of the boards. No customer support.

Yes we are Google customers. We read the adds that are posted. If we go there - Google gets paid.

Posted by WT, a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm

The network is still broken. Practically, it makes it unusable for speed and reliability. "Mixed Views" telling us that we are whiners and suggesting the network is only for part-time use is marginalizing the discussion with unthinking responses. Ironically, this person is the one actually whining (which means they are complaining without a real basis.) I suspect they haven't actually tried to use the Network for part-time use.

In the residential areas (where home owners pay the taxes for the poles), the network was always unusable for part-time mobile devices since you needed to be within a block of the node. And if you are in your house needing a rooftop repeater why would you do this for only part-time use? Part-time use typically applies to the user not the service. No one is happy if an essential service (internet) only rarely needed like the fire department only works some of the time. For people, who pay for broad band, why would they need a part time, slower, much less reliable competing service even if free, especially if you need to install a roof top router? I think this is the bulk of residents in Mountain View.

I wasted money, time, and effort to put a roof top receiver to get improved streaming speed over the existing shared DSL router (since I had seen 3.5Mbps speeds a year ago) only to realize that the system had degraded to only a few hundred kbps and was highly erratic making it unusable and only suitable as a replacement for obsolete dial up.

Posted by BC, a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 23, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Good god it's FREE! This is the ONLY city on earth with free WIFI. How about if Google starts charging you $9.99 a month for access? Stop looking a gift horse in the mouth, and be thankful that Google has given you this gift. If you want something more reliable, and faster, then stop being so cheap and pay for it like everyone else on the planet does!

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Waverly Park
on May 23, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Actually, it has completely stopped working in our neighborhood so why would any one pay even $9.99 for that? How is something that doesn't work a "gift horse"?

Posted by WT, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 2, 2013 at 12:08 pm

I would be happy to pay $9.99/month for a robust service with over several Mbps speed. Huh? seems oblivious to what it costs for a homeowner's broadband cost. Also, there are many places and parts of cities with free WiFi. Google's lousy free WiFi is negative because it may be suppressing any paying WiFi alternative.

The key issue that Huh? seems to be ignorant of is that users are getting gouged by the duopoly of telephone line DSL (minimum incremental cost of $30/month) or cable TV modem (at over $60/month). Studies show these are very profitable and dedicated cabling to each house is very cost inefficient due to the use of over 60 year old technology since there is no multiplexing or sharing to each user (which WiFi provides.) There is no alternative (except cell phone data which is even more expensive).

Posted by True, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 14, 2013 at 9:44 am

So you are complaining about the internet access that is free? Have I got that right?

The system is intended to be a supplement to home internet, not a substitute. If you or your neighbors weren't free-loading and using it as their primary internet access point there would be more than adequate bandwidth for occasional use.

Posted by roland, a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 31, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I posted awhile back how reliable this Goog-wifi WAS....not so much now...
King Google Wifi don't care about Mountain View Peasants...Only thing that matters is
that $$$ Friday paycheck..........
So, though King Google won"t feel the pinch , I've stopped using google !!
Do you hear that google ?, I don't care about you any any more...
I also have something to say to all YOU CHEESE BALL YUPPIES thats infested my home town.....What I wanna say i can't post...