Arik Hesseldahl

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Google Brings Free Wi-Fi to Its Section of Manhattan

free_wifiInternet giant Google says it’s bringing free Wi-Fi access to an area of New York City close to its offices. In a press conference today in Manhattan, with Google CIO Ben Fried, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Sen. Chuck Schumer in attendance, the Internet giant revealed plans to turn on free Wi-Fi access for the western portion of the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

Chelsea is the site of Google’s second-largest office in the world, sometimes referred to as Googleplex East.

The network, which will be available for use by anyone with a PC, smartphone or tablet, is primarily an outdoor network, but will be extended indoors at a local senior citizen center, and also at a local public housing complex. But it’s a pretty sure bet that its heaviest users will be Google employees.

This is Google’s second go at providing free Wi-Fi in the city. Last summer, it announced plans to add Wi-Fi to a handful of subway stations, essentially the ones most likely to be frequented by Google employees going to and coming from work.

There have been numerous efforts to get this city blanketed in Wi-Fi. Courtesy of AT&T, there’s free Wi-Fi in several city parks in all five boroughs, including a few parts of Central Park. The city also launched a pilot program to turn some of the city’s remaining pay phones into Wi-Fi hotspots. (Verizon had tried that several years ago, and found that no one used them.)

Schumer said that he and Bloomberg have been talking about extending the network all over the city. Bloomberg then piped in to say that it would be great, though it would take federal money to pay for it. “It would be a sliver of what we’re paying for Sandy,” Schumer said, referring to the damage done to the city by Hurricane Sandy two months ago.

Basically, the area covered amounts to a few blocks north and west of Google’s massive complex, which occupies most of the block bordered by 15th and 16th streets and Eighth and Ninth avenues. Here’s a rough outline (click to make bigger):


And, for reference, here’s the whole neighborhood of Chelsea, courtesy of Google Maps (click to make bigger):


There had been some buzz that Google might be bringing its Google Fiber superfast Internet-plus-TV — which it launched last year in Kansas City — to the Big Apple. Given the peculiar rules of how cable-TV franchises operate in New York, there was little chance of that. In Manhattan, we had to wait years for Verizon to get its act together with FiOs, its fiber-optic Internet and TV service, and even now not all apartment buildings have granted access.

You can see video of the press conference here.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work