Google expects to serve hundreds of thousands of people per year in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, where its offices have been located for the past six years. Wi-Fi coverage is now available between Gansevoort St. and 19 St. from 8th Ave to the West Side Highway, and includes the Chelsea Triangle, 14th Street Park and Gansevoort Plaza.
"This network will not only be a resource for the 2000+ residents of the Fulton Houses, it will also serve the 5,000+ student population of Chelsea as well as the hundreds of workers, retail customers and tourists who visit our neighborhood every day," said Google CIO Ben Fried in a statement.
The move comes close to fulfilling one of InformationWeek's predictions for Google this year: "In 2013, Google will expand its Internet connectivity offerings and become a major ISP outside of Kansas City."
[ In other Google news, the search giant confirms it's okay with ad blocking. Read France Halts ISP's Ad Blocking. ]
Beyond its Kansas City fiber experiment, Google has deployed free Wi-Fi service in areas where it has offices or data centers, such as Mountain View, Calif., Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Berkeley, S.C. The Chelsea network is the largest contiguous Wi-Fi network in the city of New York, Google claims.
According to a Google spokeswoman, the network is intended for outdoor use. It will thus primarily serve mobile phones and should encourage usage of Google's locally-focused products, such as Google Maps and Google+ Local.
Asked whether the outdoor focus was intended to avoid stepping on the toes of local businesses, such as hotels that offer indoor Internet access as means of generating revenue, Google's spokeswoman said that was "overthinking" the issue and that there were practical reasons for focusing on outdoor service, such as building walls that limit network signal strength.
In addition to serving the outdoor areas of New York City Housing Authority's Fulton Houses housing development, Google's Wi-Fi network will provide outdoor Internet access for several local public schools.
Google and the Chelsea Improvement Company worked with the City of New York's Office of the Mayor, its Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and Sky-Packets to design and build the Chelsea Wi-Fi network.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement that universal access to high-speed Internet connectivity represented an essential part of New York's ambition to become the world's leading digital city and he thanked Google for helping the city toward its goal.