Google can’t even PAY to give away broadband

May 15, 2007, 8:27 PM UTC
Fortune

An interesting piece in the San Francisco Chronicle today details the problems Google (GOOG) and its partner Earthlink (ELNK) are having in getting its proposed free Wi-Fi service approved by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. Apparently the left-wing members of the board (yes, that’s left-wing of a left-leaning organization in a liberal city) don’t think Google and Earthlink are offering to pay enough for the privilege of providing free broadband to its citizens. The supes are probably being smart. Whatever Google is offering, it can probably afford to pay more. Watch for a raised bid.

Free Wi-Fi is experiencing growing pains, to say the least. When Google started poking around supporting these services, there were rumblings that Google wanted to operate a vast Internet access network. (The one and only Om Malik speculated as much here back in September, 2005.) Since then, well, not much has happened, at least not in San Francisco and at least not by Google. The company that Does No Evil operates a free service in its hometown of Mountain View, Calif. And that’s about it. Earthlink seems to be sputtering as well. Recent articles in BusinessWeek and The Oregonian details some of Earthlink’s travails.

Perhaps free Wi-Fi is best explained by a time-tested adage: You get what you pay for.