Google network upgrades lead to Wi-Fi shutdown in East Palo Alto, Calif.

Another free Wi-Fi network is getting decommissioned, this time in East Palo Alto and the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, Calif., according to Palo Alto Online.                       

The WiFi101 network has been operating for years and was designed to bridge the "digital divide," but because Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is decommissioning the Mountain View network that provided the backhaul, it will no longer be available. Google is replacing the Mountain View network with a higher-quality one.

Google offered "additional support" after the shutoff, but a spokesperson for the nonprofit Computers for Everyone (CFE)  said the offer wasn't enough to keep the Wi-Fi network running, according to the report.

Google offered to "help us with Comcast, but even if that worked out we would have a significant expense ... to move and reconfigure the equipment that we currently have at Google," said CFE board member Stu Jeffery.

"We explored other approaches, all of which would cost us money, but since there is no revenue from the Wi-Fi network, we made the hard decision to shut it down. We are in the position to reactivate were a new white knight to emerge," he told Palo Alto Online.

As more low-cost options for connecting to the Internet become available, WiFi101 data has shown a major drop-off in usage, according to the report, citing a CFE press release. At the height of usage, about 7,750 residents used the WiFi101 network each month, but only 2,500 users accessed the network last month.

"The equipment used by the network is quite old and is no longer reliable. A major overhaul of the network would be necessary to keep it running. CFE does not currently have the funding to support this overhaul," Jeffery said.

WiFi101 was created in 2004 by Community Wireless and provided residents with free Internet connection before CFE took over in 2012. The East Palo Alto nonprofit provided low-cost equipment and technical support to residents and organizations to enable them to connect to WiFi101.

"Over the years, WiFi101 has played a pivotal role as an East Palo Alto Digital Village signature project and, in the process, made immeasurable contributions to ongoing efforts to build technology infrastructure in EPA and the neighboring community of eastern Menlo Park/Belle Haven," CFE board member Dr. Faye McNair-Knox said in the press release.

The network, which was funded by a three-year grant from the California Emerging Technology Fund, was operated by a consortium of nonprofits. Currently, the WiFi101 network is still up, Jeffery said, but since Google is in the process of disassembling the Mountain View network, it could shut down at any time.

For more:
- see this Palo Alto Online article
- see this Silicon Valley Business Journal story

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