SAN FRANCISCO – Google Inc. (GOOG) has turned the Silicon Valley town where it is headquartered into a showcase for the advantages of free, citywide wireless Internet access, in what might be called Google everywhere.
The Web search leader said on Tuesday that it is now making a Google-supported wireless Internet network generally available to the 72,000 residents of Mountain View, Calif., along with the town's office workers, daily visitors and the more than 1,000 Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) employees at the Google rival's 24-acre Mountain View campus.
Not just local laptop computer owners, but users of any other Wi-Fi device or telephone simply need to seek out nearby wireless networks and pick the "Google Wi-Fi" option.
Once the device's browser window opens, a Google log-on page appears.
Wireless customers with Google e-mail, instant messaging or home page accounts can sign in using with their normal passwords.
Those wishing to remain anonymous can create a temporary user name and sign in to a default Google home page featuring local information on Mountain View and the surrounding region.
Google says it sees a spike in usage of its search and advertising services wherever broadband usage spreads. By offering wireless access inside homes, offices, schools and around town, Google expects further economic benefits.
Chris Sacca, Google's head of special initiatives, said the main purpose of his company backing local Wi-Fi access has been to clear the way for broadband entrepreneurs and overcome legal roadblocks by established telephone and cable TV providers.
"We want to inspire these networks to be built," Sacca said of Google's efforts to back the more than 300 Internet service providers and network equipment makers seeking to build high-speed municipal Wi-Fi networks in the United States.
With Google's support, the debate over municipal Wi-Fi has been transformed over the past year, as dozens of U.S. cities from Philadelphia to Portland, Ore., have forged ahead with projects. Major telecom carriers such as AT&T Inc. (T) have dropped lawsuits and bid to participate in some projects.
"We wanted to throw our hat in the ring and show the promise of these broadband networks," Sacca said of the aim of offering wireless access. "We wanted to make it very unpopular for anyone to oppose the promise of these networks," he said.
Google is also part of a bid to offer Wi-Fi access in San Francisco. But Sacca emphasized that lead partner Earthlink Inc. (ELNK) is in charge of negotiating the deal with San Francisco's city government.
Google's Wi-Fi ambitions involve only the two cities, the Google official underscored.
"Building ISPs is not a very scalable business for us," Sacca said in an interview, adding that Google prefers to focus on search, advertising and creating new Web software and services. "I think Google is going to depend on really healthy relationships with ISPs to succeed."
Google is prepared to offer community training courses through San Francisco's 11 political districts. Similar training programs have attracted hundreds of participants in Mountain View, with as many as 750 at one session, he said.
Any effort to commercialize the Mountain View Wi-Fi service — perhaps by placing advertising on Web pages viewed over Google Wi-Fi — will come later, if at all, Sacca said.
"We like to build products that solve users' problems," Sacca said. "There is always an opportunity to go ahead and monetize it later," he said, using the jargon for making Web pages pay for themselves through selling ads or other efforts.