By Eric Auchard
Marking its biggest step into the wireless communications market to
date, Google Inc. said on Friday it has proposed to provide free
wireless Internet services across the city of San Francisco.
The Web search company said it has responded to a request for
information by the City of San Francisco to test local Internet
services via Wi-Fi, the short-range wireless technology built into
most new laptop computers.
"Google has submitted a proposal to offer free, wireless Internet
access (Wi-Fi) to the entire city of San Francisco," Google said in a
The Wi-Fi access could be funded through online advertising, a Google
spokesman said, "Ads would easily cover all the expenses."
The service aims to test a range of new services and applications
around the hilly city, which is home to more than 700,000 residents.
Offering free wireless communications could thrust Google into
competition with entrenched local suppliers of broadband Internet
access, including telephone network SBC Communications Inc. and local
cable operator Comcast Corp. No word yet whether SBC will allow the
proposal or not.
An effort by the city of Philadelphia to offer municipal Wi-Fi
Internet access services has met with stiff opposition from phone
company Verizon Communications. Chicago and New York are among other
cities considering similar plans. Verizon and SBC are fighting
furiously against these proposals, as SBC is doing in Kansas also.
"This proposal is limited to San Francisco and we don't have any plans
to expand this community service beyond the (San Francisco) Bay Area,"
the Google statement said.
Confirmation of the Google proposal came after a public "request for
information and comment" by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for ideas
on creating a universal, affordable, city wireless network.
The wireless proposal aims to reach handheld organizers, computers or
mobile phone devices, from the financial district to low-income
neighborhoods, the city said in a statement.
In July, Google confirmed that it had began a limited test of a free
wireless Web service, called "Google WiFi" with tests at a pizza
parlor and gymnasium near its Mountain View, California headquarters.
The company began sponsoring a Wi-Fi "hotspot" in a downtown San
Francisco shopping district in April, working with a start-up outfit
If it is chosen for the project, Google is working with a variety of
partners to help it set up and manage the wireless service, said
Google spokesman Nathan Tyler.
Google would work with partners to build and operate the wireless
service, including Wireless Facilities Inc., a San Diego company that
helps run networks, the Wall Street Journal reported late on Friday.
Other companies that responded to San Francisco's request for
information include Internet service provider EarthLink Inc. of
Atlanta, the Journal said.
"If accepted, we believe Google can bring to bear its expertise
managing complex computer networks combined with years of online
consumer product development, to benefit the people of San Francisco,"
Google said of its proposal.
(Additional reporting by Sinead Carew in New York)
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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