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Google Launches Free WiFi in Chelsea

By Mathew Katz | January 8, 2013 12:26pm

CHELSEA — This hot neighborhood is now a hotspot.

Tech giant Google, partnering with the Chelsea Improvement Company, has unveiled that it's offering a huge network of free WiFi throughout southern Chelsea.

The network, which runs roughly between Gansevoort Street and West 19th Street from Eighth Avenue to the West Side Highway, will give free internet access outside, though the network may permeate into some buildings. The WiFi will also be provided inside the Fulton Houses Senior Center.

"The bottom line is, all you need is a laptop or smartphone or other wireless-enabled device and a web browser to get online," said Ben Fried, Google's Chief Information Officer.

The new network, which is the largest contiguous one in the city, can be easily accessed in the area's public parks and plazas by connecting to "CIC Free WiFi" and signing in on your wireless device. 

Google first set up shop in Chelsea in 2006, eventually buying 111 Eighth Avenue, a massive building housing many of its New York offices, for a reported $1.9 billion. The search giant's presence helped transform the neighborhood into a Mecca for tech companies.

Along with Fried, several public officials were on hand for Tuesday's launch — using scissors to cut a network cable instead of a ceremonial ribbon.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg hailed the free WiFi as a great draw for Chelsea, adding to its techie reputation.

"If the best and the brightest want to live here, that's what gets companies, including high-tech companies that depend on intellectual content, to set up their offices here and expand here," he said.

"It's great. It's high tech. It's high speed. It's high job growth. It's free," said an enthusiastic Senator Charles Schumer on Tuesday.

"This is a great, great thing for New York." 

Dan Biederman, head of the Chelsea Improvement Company, said he hopes to bring similar free WiFi to the area around West 34th Street within a year.

The Chelsea network, designed and installed by tech company Sky-Packets, cost roughly $115,000 to set up, with a $45,000 yearly maintenance fee. Google will pay for roughly two-thirds of that cost, with the Chelsea Improvement Company picking up the rest of the tab.

"It's not very expensive, so the mayor and I are talking, maybe we can do this for the whole city," Schumer said.

"Federal money," quipped Bloomberg.

"We'd love to do it."