Google and EarthLink Land San Francisco Wi-Fi Contract

The San Francisco Times was the first to report the city’s decision last Thursday, and so far it hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as when Google first announced the bid last September.

Basically, Google will offer free 300kbs wireless internet access to anyone who lives in the city, and EarthLink will complement this with a to-be-determined faster broadband service for about $20 a month.

This all happened as a result of Mayor Galvin Newsom’s promise to address the “digital divide” by offering affordable (and now free) internet access to all citizens.

(A virtually unreported side of this are the implications of the city awarding a public contract that basically gives ISP monopoly status to Google and Earthlink… But that’s for another blog altogether, let’s get to the good stuff!)

So what’s in it for Google?

Ah, now here we are at last - there are a range of answers depending upon who you talk to - but by far the overwhelming favorite (which Google politely denies, of course) is a long term plan to blanket the nation in wi-fi coverage allowing for both context and location sensitive advertising via Google mobile-esque services. Free VOIP cell phone service is seen as a likely followup.

Okay, great, where do I sign up?

But why Google, why now? - Again, what’s in it for them?

And I don’t mean the simple answer -

“The more people who have access to the internet, the more people who use Google search, and that means clicking on Google ads!” - or even the slightly better “All along Google’s mission has been to organize the world’s information… And make it universally accessible! Brilliant!” Free email is one thing, and okay, nearly 3 gig of it is impressively generous, but free nationwide wi-fi is going to have serious operating expenses and Google must have more than adsense up it’s sleave if they think they can glean a profitable business model out of this.

Well they do. (this time it’s my quote, and granted, my speculation)

It’s called RFID, and it’s coming to a store near you. It’s going to change the way you think about shopping… and search…

Put 2 and 2 together with universal wi-fi and think about that for a moment, if you will.

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