While various bills in Congress threaten to limit local governments' ability to deploy municipal wireless, Business 2.0 writer Om Malik is pushing hard on a theory that Google intends to deliver free Wi-Fi throughout the U.S.
For the past year, it has quietly been shopping for miles and miles of "dark," or unused, fiber-optic cable across the country from wholesalers such as New York’s AboveNet. It's also acquiring superfast connections from Cogent Communications and WilTel, among others, between East Coast cities including Atlanta, Miami, and New York. Such large-scale purchases are unprecedented for an Internet company, but Google's timing is impeccable. The rash of telecom bankruptcies has freed up a ton of bargain-priced capacity, which Google needs as it prepares to unleash a flood of new, bandwidth-hungry applications. These offerings could include everything from a digital-video database to on-demand television programming.
Malik notes that Google could save millions of dollars a year by eliminating IP transit fees. Moreover, Google is working with a Wi-Fi startup called Feeva, which is setting up Wi-Fi hotspots for San Francisco. While Google is not necessarily involved in the San Francisco network, Google's interest in Feeva, "likely stems from the startup's proprietary technology, which can determine the location of every Wi-Fi user and would allow Google to serve up advertising and maps based on real-time data."
If it all pans out according to Malik's admittedly far-fetched thinking, cities would be freed from the costs and battles with Verizon and congresspeople over creating wireless networks. By Malik's way of thinking, Google will make the Wi-Fi available for free, a good move for connecting many more customers to their advertising and value-add services. Whether it's good policy for Google to control all the infrastructure is another question, one that Verizon and Comcast would surely make as they challenge the threat through legal and legislative channels. But that would be Google's problem.