Planet GOOG

Get Your Internet On: Google Is Giving Free Wifi to Southwest Chelsea [UPDATED]

Do a little celebratory dance, ya'll.

Do a little celebratory dance.

Give it up for GOOG, boys and girls: Later this morning, the search behemoth is expected to announce an initiative to blanket southwest Chelsea with free Wifi. That’ll mean easier access to the Internet for not just Chelsea Market shoppers and Google employees, but also residents of the NYCHA-run Fulton Houses and several local public schools.

Nice to see someone getting after that digital divide.

The program will be announced in a press conference scheduled for 10:30, and it looks to be a splashy one. We know Mayor Bloomberg will be attending, and TechCrunch reports that Google CTO Ben Fried and Senator Charles Schumer will both be there, as well.

This will be the largest Wifi network in the city, and TechCrunch says it’ll stretch from Gansevoort to 19th Streets and from 8th Avenue to the West Side Highway. Okay, so maybe not quite the have-nots.

Google’s New York outpost is, of course, located in the neighborhood, and we can think of few better ways to make nice with the neighbors than opening up your Wifi network. It’s also worth mentioning that Google’s Alex Abelin sits on the Board of Directors of the Chelsea Improvement Company, the company’s partner in the program.

Despite the universal fondness for such an amenity, we can’t help but be a bit disappointed–because there was some talk that this might be an announcement about Google Fiber. The theory wasn’t totally out of left field: Business Insider reports that the company recently posted a job listing for a Google Fiber sales rep based in New York City.

Dare to dream!

Updated: It’s quite clear that everyone involved in this initiative wants the populist story front-and-center. We arrived at the presser to discover that it was not at Google’s Chelsea outpost, as we had expected, but rather in the back garden of the Fulton Houses’ senior center, NYCHA-style towers looming on either side. The facility will be the only part of the network specifically meant to reach indoors.

Google CIO Brian Fried stepped up to the mic and boiled it down: “The bottom line is all you need is a laptop or smartphone or other wireless-enabled device and a web browser to get online.”

“I think we all know that the Internet has the power to connect not just the people around the world but also bring together diverse communities like this one in Chelsea,” he added, before ceding the floor to the politicians.

We heard Senator Charles Schumer before we saw him: “Nice to see you folks; looks like all of Chelsea is here,” he chattered with that trademark grin. Mayor Bloomberg follows silently behind, with his typical all-business aura. At the sight of his stern face, an elderly woman saucily called out from the back, “Good morning, Mr. Mayor!”

20130108 110542 Get Your Internet On: Google Is Giving Free Wifi to Southwest Chelsea [UPDATED]

On the scene.

“I just want to say, these are my talking points,” said Senator Schumer, adding, “Guess what? I got them courtesy of the new Internet Wifi.” He proceeded to kvetch for a couple of moments about the price of Wifi in places like planes, before noting that the total cost of installation was so low that “the mayor and I are talking maybe we can do this for the whole city.”

Before you get too excited, Mayor Bloomberg didn’t seem to bite. He followed the senator and, after informing Mr. Fried that having merely the second-largest Google office didn’t sit too well with him, he added regarding the idea of citywide free Wifi “The Senator is going to provide the federal monies, I’m sure, so that the Wifi is free. Keep in mind somebody‘s got to pay for the Wifi.”

It was a little like watching two roosters warily circle each other in a barnyard, ya’ll.

After that the politicos ditched, but Mr. Fried stuck around long enough for a brief Q&A. He explained a bit about Google’s motives in partnering with the Chelsea Improvement Company for such a big network: “We’re citizens of this community and this district, and it’s important to us as citizens to contribute back to the district, and I think this is a way we can do it that resonates with us.”

We’re sure the fact that Google’s business benefits from having literally everyone on the Internet doesn’t influence their thinking at all, no way.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com