East Palo Alto's free wireless network to shut down

Providing Internet access is too costly for the nonprofit that's been providing it

In May 2008, the WiFi101 network went live in East Palo Alto to bridge the "digital divide" separating residents from the benefits of Internet access. Now, that free wireless network, which covers East Palo Alto and the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, will shut down, according to nonprofit Computers for Everyone.

Computers for Everyone (CFE) board member Stu Jeffery said the network shutdown is due to a variety of reasons, including aged equipment and a decline in usership, but the driving reason is that tech company Google can no longer provide backhaul for the network.

The WiFi101 network has been part of Google's free Wi-Fi network in Mountain View, which is in the process of being decommissioned and replaced with a more robust network in downtown Mountain View, said Meghan Casserly, Google's corporate communications manager.

"Google was providing us a 'tap' into the service they were providing to Mountain View, but since they are shutting that network down, the 'tap' they were providing is going away," Jeffery said.

Casserly said the company offered to help WiFi101 with "additional support" after the shut-off, but Jeffery said the offer wasn't sufficient.

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," Jeffery said.

"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 said.

And because people have more low-cost options for connecting to the World Wide Web now, WiFi101 data has shown a major drop-off in usage, according to 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.

While the organization recognizes the value of the free service, sustaining it is not financially possible, the press release reads.

"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 for eight years before Computers for Everyone took over in 2012. The East Palo Alto nonprofit provides 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, including Ravenswood City School District; One East Palo Alto, a community-betterment group; and JobTrain, a nonprofit educational and training institution; among others.

Currently, the WiFi101 network is still up, Jeffery said, but since Google is in the process of disassembling the Mountain View network, WiFi101 could shut down at any time.

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3 people like this
Posted by Peter Sullivan
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Jan 13, 2015 at 9:19 pm

In 2008, when this went live, I thought this was a great idea. But, what has emerged in the last 6 years has been completely unexpected. The World Health Organization listed radio frequency radiation as a class 2B carcinogen in 2011 - the same category as lead and arsenic. This is emerging as a very large public health issue, corporate liability and human rights issue.
Surprisingly, shutting the network down may be a very positive thing for the community.

32 people like this
Posted by Da'Shante
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2015 at 9:57 pm

"We are in the position to reactivate were a new white knight to emerge"

OKso why it gotta be a WHITE knight? we gotta wakeup n see what is happenig to us. first they gonna take our google. then they gonn take our electric. they they gonna take our water. seen it b4 in katrinas


4 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2015 at 10:44 pm

@Peter Sullivan: OK, I had to look up your claim. Here's a link on the WHO's stance: Web Link

Some choice clips:

To date, research does not suggest any consistent evidence of adverse health effects from exposure to radiofrequency fields at levels below those that cause tissue heating. Further, research has not been able to provide support for a causal relationship between exposure to electromagnetic fields and self-reported symptoms, or “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”.


The international pooled analysis of data gathered from 13 participating countries found no increased risk of glioma or meningioma with mobile phone use of more than 10 years. There are some indications of an increased risk of glioma for those who reported the highest 10% of cumulative hours of cell phone use, although there was no consistent trend of increasing risk with greater duration of use.

and also:

Based largely on these data, IARC has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), a category used when a causal association is considered credible, but when chance, bias or confounding cannot be ruled out with reasonable confidence.

So they did a bunch of studies, couldn't find a direct correlation and haven't been able to determine any cause for an uptick in a particular cancer, most likely due to RF radiation not being ionizing (i.e. it doesn't cause cancer).

4 people like this
Posted by EPAMom
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 14, 2015 at 10:54 am

I never did get the WiFi101 signal at my place

2 people like this
Posted by Horrified
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 14, 2015 at 11:31 am

Very disappointing that Google is not bankrolling the non profit and the Wi-Fi to the EPA community.I really think I'm closing my Gmail account now :-) also Gmail is the worst email anyway not user-friendly.....

1 person likes this
Posted by No-Such-Thing-As-A-Free-Lunch
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Articles like this one are not at all helpful, since there is no mention of what kinds of money needs to be spent to keep this Internet Access infrastructure in place.

Also not mentioned is exactly how much use is being made of this network by its users. The number of log-ons, and the data transferred, becomes important, because the back-haul costs are always killers in most cases. These back-haul costs are always “invisible”, because this is what the service provider does for a living, and making its costs known to its customers is generally not considered as good business practice.

We also need to remember that other than the Google-provided WiFi network in Mountain View, there are no public WiFi networks in any of the Silicon Valley/Peninsula cities. San Francisco has been screwing around with bids from a couple providers, but the general anti-business mindset of that chaotic City government has not resulted in a vendor bringing a WiFi network to SF. Google is now funding some limited WiFi in SF parks. SF offers a geography problem for WiFi, so cost will always be an issue.

Given how small EPA (2.5 sq miles), the cost of outfitting the city would not be that great—which gets us back to the cost of the Internet access.

4 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Jan 14, 2015 at 1:36 pm

WiFi never worked on the woodland side of the freeway, nor did it work when I lived on Illinois St.

5 people like this
Posted by fb
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 14, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Facebook is right across the street from EPA; while Google is literally in a different county. Facebook keeps promising to give back to the community, but what have they really done to their neighbors, other than bringing a lot more traffic and pollution into the community. Now is the time to step up, Mr. Zuckerberg.

Like this comment
Posted by Look east for ideas?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 14, 2015 at 10:08 pm

Take a look at Cedar Falls, Iowa as a possible model -- Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2015 at 10:22 am

KP is a registered user.

@fb - Great Idea!
Let's see FB step up and make something happen for internet access for EPA.
JobTrain, along with the other educational institutions are so incredibly important and they don't have the funding for internet access. Specifically, JobTrain, is a non-profit, and having free internet access is extremely important.

Come on Laura, get together with FB and come up with something...I know you can!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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