It's brilliant for Google to offer free internet to any metro area, and maybe even rurally though that gets more complex logistically. Google doesn't need ISP fees, they to keep up market share and ad clicks. Even a linked logo to Google will probably create enough ad clicks to justify the cost here and certainly if you include brand awareness it's worth the money for them.
A drop in Google's bucket of cash to consolidate the position as search leader.
Where the HECK are Yahoo and MSN when all these cool initiatives spring up?
Henry Blodget poses some provocative search questions and gets a thoughtful answer from Walt Mossberg, who has switched from Google to Ask as his primary search tool.
This is significant as I recall that it was people like Mossberg, with a huge audience, who reported early and favorably on Google, creating the favorable buzz that launched them from obscurity to search stardom in just a few years (also less well known people like me and the thousands of other web savvy folks who helped with the positive Buzz about Google back in the ancient internet times c1998).
I don't think internet habits die all that hard which is why I have Google puts AND admire Google's brilliance at the same time. Online fortunes, literally and figuratively, can change overnight. Note that over a decade we saw Alta Vista, then Yahoo, and now Google as the 800 pound gorilla of search. The new game has Yahoo and Google equal in actual relevance (though not in perceived relevance) with Ask and MSN catching up soon.
All use different approaches and eventually there will probably be a "breakout application" that will do a much better job. As Jeremy Zawodny has noted people won't switch because you are a "little better". The next search giant may need to be "great". It might remain Google but it could also become, for example, IBM who arguably has the best but too-slow-for-prime-time search routine called "WebFountain".
John Battelle's excellent interview with MSN search engineer Gary Flake reminded me of a long talk I had with Andy Edmonds in New Orleans PubCon last year. Andy is a former Mozilla geek now working at MSN to determine search relevancy. Andy is VERY sharp and reminds me of guys like Jeremy at Yahoo who can see far beyond the narrow corporate interests into the heart of what's up with the evolving internet. (though they rightfully are sometimes protective of those corporate interests).
Also, at MIX06 I was impressed with how hard the LIVE search team was working and felt that they are getting the resources and respect needed to make big changes at MS in search.
Back in June of 2005, Andy was very optimistic and obviously sincere in his assumption that relevancy at MSN would equal Google's sooner than most were thinking It's not happened yet but the Flake interview suggests that Microsoft's use of artificial intelligence in their algorithm is improving fast. If as Gary suggests MS has a superior configuration (using a 64 bit architecture) that will allow deeper analysis things MS search could get very good very fast.
I won't hold my breath, noting when talking to guys at Google and Yahoo they tend to dismiss MS search as "hopeless". Part of this is their ego talking but mostly it's an assumption that Microsoft no longer is doing bleeding edge research needed for a breakout in search quality. People at MSN like Gary and Andy challenge that assumption.