Google's grand plan for San Francisco
Michael Liedtke | San Francisco, United States
Google wants to connect all of San Francisco to the internet with a free wireless service, creating a springboard for the online search-engine leader to leap into the telecommunications industry.
The Mountain View, California-based company filed an application late on Friday to provide a wireless, or Wi-Fi, service that would enable anyone in San Francisco to connect to the internet.
Google submitted its 100-page bid in response to a call for proposals from San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who is looking for a company to finance a free wireless network to lower the financial barriers to internet access in his city.
More than a dozen other bidders are competing with Google for the San Francisco project.
If Google is selected, it would provide a testing ground for a national Wi-Fi service -- something that many industry observers believe the company is pondering as a way to ensure people can connect to its search engine at any time, from just about anywhere.
"It makes sense for Google," said Chris Winfield, who runs a search-engine marketing firm, 10e20. "They say their mission is to organise the world's information, so the logical next step is to provide the access to it."
Google spokesperson Nate Tyler said on Saturday that the company does not currently have plans to offer a Wi-Fi service outside the San Francisco Bay area.
"Unwiring San Francisco is a way for Google to support our local Bay area community," Tyler said. "It is also an opportunity to make San Francisco a test ground for new location-based applications and services that enable people to find relevant information exactly when and where they need it."
During the past few months, Google has been quietly experimenting with Wi-Fi service in a few connection spots around the San Francisco Bay area and New York.
In another sign of its interest in internet access, Google recently bought an undisclosed stake in a Maryland start-up, the Current Communications Group, which is trying to provide high-speed connections through power lines.
While it remains unclear whether the company has the telecommunications expertise to build and maintain a Wi-Fi service, Google has both the financial clout and the incentive to get into the Wi-Fi business.
The company has nearly $7,1-billion in cash, having just raised $4,17-billion in stock offerings completed last month. That stock sale prompted several industry analysts to conclude Google might be preparing to build its own high-speed internet network.
Offering free Wi-Fi service could pay off for Google if the greater access gives the company more opportunities to field search requests and ultimately serve up more advertising -- the vehicle that provides virtually all of its profits.
Building its own wireless internet network connection also would help Google save money by reducing the fees that it pays to the telecommunications middlemen that provide a bridge between the company's data centres and internet service providers whenever web surfers make a search request.
Any free internet access service would threaten to siphon revenue from subscription internet service providers such as SBC Communications and Comcast that have invested heavily in high-speed connections that depend on phone lines and cable modems.
If Google's Wi-Fi service is set up to make Google's home page automatically the first stopping point, it also could divert traffic from many popular websites, including Yahoo, MSN and AOL. -- Sapa-AP
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