Google Delivers Free Wi-Fi for Holiday

Delivering “one of our holiday gifts to our users,” Google Inc. (GOOG) said it will provide free Wi-Fi at 47 airports around the continental United States through Jan. 15, 2010. The company is also helping provide permanent free access at the Seattle and Burbank airports.

While the list of airports includes Las Vegas, San Jose, Boston, Houston, Seattle, Miami, and Orlando, it also bypasses Bay Area, San Francisco, the three New York-area airports, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles. (Some of those airports, including Denver, already offer free WiFi.)

And, lest you get all excited thinking you’ll never have to pay a ridiculous sum for airport Wi-Fi again, Dave Hagan, CEO of Boingo Wireless, which is partnering with Google to provide the free service, made it clear that this is a limited-time-only offer designed to entice people to pay for access and other services down the road. “In addition to the obvious bonus holiday travelers will enjoy,” Hagan said in a statement, “sponsored access will increase overall Wi-Fi usage in the participating airports and help supplement the airport’s increasingly important non-airline incremental revenue.”

In Indianapolis, the new airport has offered free access since it opened a year ago. Jeremiah Wise, the treasurer for the Indianapolis Airport Authority, indicated that the Google “gift” will allow the facility to keep doing so, at least into 2010. “Free and open access to the Internet has been a key passenger service initiative since the opening of our new airport,” Wise said in a statement. “The involvement of sponsors such as Google helps to ensure we can continue to keep Wi-Fi free.”

Free Wi-Fi also exposes users to other Google services and to its advertising, the major source of revenue for the search giant. Logging in, users will be asked if they want to set Google as their home page, or download the Google Chrome browser. Last month Google and Virgin America said they will provide free in-flight Wi-Fi to all Virgin passengers through the holiday season.

The company’s WiFi initiative is also soliciting donations through Christmas for three nonprofit groups: Engineers without Borders, One Economy Corporation and Climate Savers Computing Initiative. Google will match contributions up to a total of $250,000 nationwide.

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