Google wins approval to give home city Wi-Fi

Google Inc. has won the approval from city officials it needs to begin building a Wi-Fi network in its home base of Mountain View, Calif., the company said Wednesday.

At a meeting Tuesday night, the Mountain View City Council unanimously approved a plan that gives Google access to city-owned streetlight poles for the placement of wireless access points for a city-wide Wi-Fi network. In an e-mail statement, a Google spokeswoman said the company is "excited to begin work on this project" and is looking forward to providing Wi-Fi service to members of the local community.

The decision to approve the plan seemed to be an easy one for the City Council, as the city of Mountain View will incur no expenses for the Wi-Fi network and actually stands to gain financially from the deal, according to a document on the City Council Web site outlining the item on Tuesday's meeting agenda.

"The City potentially could receive an annual payment of approximately $12,600 [adjusted annually for increases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI)] for the placement of Google equipment on City-owned light poles," according to the document. "All installation and maintenance costs will be borne by Google, and utility costs will be paid by the City and fully reimbursed by Google, which is estimated to be $3,000 to $4,000 per year."

Mountain View City Councilman Tom Means said council officials saw no compelling reason to dispute the plan, though they did hear some dissent from residents who were concerned about their privacy and health problems that could occur due to the radiation emitted from Wi-Fi transmissions.

"Essentially there's very little downside for us," he said in an interview Wednesday. "It’s an experiment. Google wants to do a test market here to see if they can do it, and they're going to pay us [for it]."

Google has some more negotiating to do before it can provide Wi-Fi access to the entire city, however. According to the council document, there are parts of Mountain View that have streetlight poles owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E), not the city itself.

Google plans to work with PG&E to gain access to these poles or to develop equipment to provide these parts of the city Wi-Fi coverage, according to the document. However, Means said Wednesday it's still unclear whether or not the entire city of Mountain View will have Wi-Fi coverage under the plan.

Google hopes to use the Mountain View network as a proving ground to show officials in large metropolitan areas that the search giant can provide city-wide Wi-Fi access. About 72,200 people live in Mountain View, located about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from San Francisco. The company already provides Wi-Fi access in two local Mountain View businesses, and in Union Square, a popular outdoor public space in downtown San Francisco.

Google made a grand pitch in October to San Francisco leaders outlining the benefits of providing free wireless service to city residents and visitors. At the same time, Google threw its name into the hat as a potential service provider to enable San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's plan for free, city-wide Wi-Fi access.

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