Search giant Google Inc. may have taken a big step to becoming an Internet service provider Tuesday night.
Google has already acknowledged it wants to build its own Internet network, thus challenging the incumbent broadband operators' stranglehold on the Internet service provider market.
So far, Google is leaning toward using Wi-Fi, an inexpensive and popular technology for distributing Internet access through the air rather than through cables. But it has yet to make a final decision.
Google has chosen Mountain View, Calif., its home town, to gain real-world experience with just such a network before fully committing, it says.
City leaders were to meet Tuesday night to discuss, and likely ratify, a five-year property lease that would be key to Google entering this important testing phase.
"Our first deployment is a research and development effort to learn more about the ease of building and support," Google wrote in a letter recently to Mountain View leaders. "It's so we can build a well-informed business model."
The lease proposal has already passed its first litmus test by winning support from City Council staffers.
"Staff believes these conditions being proposed by Google, for a free citywide wireless service, to be fair and equitable, and recommends the city authorize [it]," they recently wrote of the proposal.
While seemingly perfunctory in nature, Google's interaction with Mountain View on Tuesday night still has a lot of significance.
For one, Google is providing insight into what it thinks it'll take to forge a successful relationship with local governments.
A friendly working partnership is important because governments usually own the infrastructure key to a service provider's plans.
In Google's case, it's the city streetlight posts, upon which Google wants to affix nearly 300 Wi-Fi radios.
If history is to serve, a cordial atmosphere will help fend off any attempt by major communications companies to thwart Google's plans.
In the past, telephone and cable operators have tried to thwart other private-municipal partnerships involving wireless Internet access.
The interaction tonight also reveals a few morsels of Google's Wi-Fi secrets.
For instance, Google has disclosed in correspondence with Mountain View officials that it will provide wireless users with real-time road traffic conditions.
It is also at work on "local commerce innovations" that may include geographically targeted advertising.
Google is also going to encourage people to use the network inside their homes or office.
For that, Google says people will have to supply their own signal amplifiers, which cost between $50 and $100 each.
Possibly in recognition of the added significance of Tuesday night's vote, Google appears to be pulling out all stops.
A city would be hard-pressed to turn down its offer. Mountain View won't have to spend any money; rather, Google promises to fund all the construction and run the operation.
And Google plans to give away access to anyone with the right gear, and a free Google account.
As a bonus, city employees, including emergency service workers, would get a secured connection of their own, again at no cost to the city.
Google has even promised to outfit the Google Mobile, a mobile library it gave the city, with wireless access. The city also gets an option to buy the network in the future.
"We are committed to showing the world this technology works, and we want to play a pioneering role in a public-private partnership to bridge our digital divide," Google wrote in material it submitted to the city.
Google's motivations are, in part, to bring Internet access to the underserved and lower classes. But here lies one flaw council members may pick on.
Mountain View isn't what one immediately thinks of when talking about the "digital divide," as Google says it aims to serve.
Rather, the city sits in the middle of the technology-saturated Silicon Valley, and benefits from the huge industry operating inside and outside its borders.
So Mountain View may not provide appropriate conditions to best stress Google's plans.
A Google representative didn't immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
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