Google offers free neighborhood Wi-Fi in NYC Chelsea district

A new free wireless service in New York is the latest in Google's efforts to bring more Internet connectivity to people

In a neighborly gesture, Google, with the help of a local development association, is rolling out free public Wi-Fi to the area surrounding its New York City offices.

The Wi-Fi network, covering more than eight blocks in the bustling Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, will be the largest contiguous free public Wi-Fi outdoor network in the city, Google claimed.

"We're citizens of this community and this district, and it is important to us to contribute back and this is a way to do it that resonates with us," said Ben Fried, Google chief information officer, at a press conference. "I am a lifelong native New Yorker and that is why I am excited about this announcement."

The free WiFi service area covers the southwest corner of Chelsea, home of Google's New York office.

Over 3,000 Google employees work at the Chelsea office. It is the second-largest office for the company after its Mountain View, California, headquarters. Google also provides free Wi-Fi for the Mountain View area. At this time, Google has no plans to bring free Wi-Fi to other cities, Fried said.

The free Wi-Fi coverage stretches between 8th Avenue and West Side Highway, from Gansevoort Street to 19th Street. It blankets a number of public spaces frequented by local residents and tourists, including Chelsea Triangle, the 14th Street Park and Gansevoort Plaza. Eventually the project will extend the Wi-Fi coverage north to 34th Street. It covers only public spaces, so residents and businesses will still need to contract with an Internet service provider for access in their buildings.

The entire network has a download speed of 150Mbps, and each location will have a download speeds of about 5Mbps to 10Mbps, to be shared among all users. The project has 29 antennas affixed to lamp posts, buildings and other locations scattered through the neighborhood. Wireless service provider Sky Packets set up the network, which is connected to the Internet through Verizon and Time Warner Cable.

Google and the Chelsea Improvement Co., a nonprofit neighborhood development corporation, are splitting the cost of implementation and upkeep in a two-year agreement. The project cost is about US$115,000 to install the equipment and it will cost about $45,000 per year to maintain. Google picked up two-thirds of the cost and Chelsea Improvement paid the other third. New York City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications helped set up the service.

"This neighborhood can claim to be the first in Manhattan with totally free outdoor Wi-Fi," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was also at the press conference.

Bloomberg noted that this is not the city's first free Wi-Fi. Twenty parks around the city have complimentary wireless service, with another 32 to be connected in the near future. Google, along with Boingo Wireless, also outfitted some of the city's subway stations with free Wi-Fi last year.

Just south of midtown Manhattan, Chelsea is a busy mix of commercial businesses and homes, both high-end luxury condominiums and public housing. It is home to the fashion district, which generates a lot of tourist traffic, as well as to a number of technology companies, such as Google. "This neighborhood is one of the epicenters for New York's booming tech center," Bloomberg boasted.

The project has no connection to another Google effort to install high-speed fiber optic Internet connectivity to Kansas City homes, Fried said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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