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Google: No plans for national Wi-Fi service

Even as it rolls out a local wireless Internet services, Google says it will not be a national provider of such services.

Even as it rolls out a local wireless Internet service in the city where it is based, Google says it has no plans to position itself as a national provider of such services.

The free service in Mountain View, Calif., the company's base in the heart of Silicon Valley, will become generally available on Wednesday after nine months of testing. Google has been selected by the city of San Francisco to install and operate a similar service there in partnership with EarthLink; the two companies are negotiating with the city over the terms.

There has been widespread speculation that Google might compete nationally as a wireless Internet provider, but an executive said Tuesday in a phone interview that Google had embarked on the Mountain View and San Francisco efforts with other objectives: to demonstrate the value of competition in providing Internet access, and to build systems that would allow the company to experiment with new business ideas.


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Competitive Internet access has been a crucial issue for Google's executives, who have jousted publicly with telephone and cable industry companies that have threatened to charge content providers for access to networks. The debate has extended to Washington, where Google and its allies have called for regulators and legislators to ensure what proponents call "Net neutrality."

"I think there wouldn't be a Net neutrality debate in this country if we really had a competitive environment for access," said Chris Sacca, a Google executive who heads special initiatives for the company. "The Internet is not pervasive as it could be, or democratic."

There are roughly 300 open contracts for municipal Wi-Fi services around the country, and Sacca noted that Google had not been an active bidder for any of the contracts, including a plan for a service covering the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

As for new business ideas, Google will now begin experimenting in Mountain View with new local services, including advertising, he said, noting that some of Google's existing advertisers would be interested in reaching local audiences.

"There are probably advertisers we leave on the table" without a way to offer targeted local advertising, he said. The arrangement with Mountain View allows Google to keep any advertising revenue.

Google has deployed 380 lamp post-mounted Wi-Fi transceivers in Mountain View to make wireless Internet service available to anyone who has registered for a Google account, which is free. The company has invested a significant amount in promoting the benefits of wireless Internet access. It has held a series of tutorials, one of them drawing 750 residents.

Users will be limited to one-megabit data rates for both uploading and downloading information, somewhat slower than digital subscriber line (DSL) service offered by phone companies. But Google has experimented with data rates above eight megabits, and Sacca said the company would consider increasing bandwidth after it had more experience with customer demand.

Making use of the service within a home in Mountain View typically requires a device called a Wi-Fi repeater, which costs $30 to $170. The repeater amplifies the wireless signal and relays it to individual computers equipped with a Wi-Fi card or Ethernet connection.

The installation, in a city of 72,000 residents, cost roughly $1 million, an amount that Sacca said demonstrated the low barriers to deploying such a service.

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