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7/20/2007
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Silicon Valley Cities Pause, Reflect On Muni Wi-Fi Commitments

The cities are studying whether to participate in an ambitious project to unwire several million people. The project has already encountered problems.

Officials from six cities and the Northern California county of Santa Clara have launched a major review and cost-benefit analysis to determine whether and to what extent they should participate in the massive, 44-city Wireless Silicon Valley project.

Wireless Silicon Valley would, at completion, be one of the largest municipal wireless networks in the world. It'll be built by Silicon Valley Metro Connect, a consortium comprising Cisco Systems, IBM, SeaKay, and Azulstar. It has already suffered delays: the project was originally scheduled to have at least two one-square-mile concept networks (in Palo Alto and San Carlos) up and running by now. But work hasn't started yet.

The cities reviewing participation are Palo Alto, Campbell, San Jose, Santa Clara, Mountain View, and Milpitas.

The Santa Clara communities are asking: "What are the needs, and how can we put a value to those needs on a city-by-city, department-by-department level?" said Craig Settles, a wireless networking consultant who's working with the cities to help carry out the analysis, in an interview.

Northrop Grumman is acting as the lead systems integrator for Santa Clara County on prospective wireless development, and Settles and Systems Definition Inc., an Alexandria, Va.-based technology consulting firm, have been hired to carry out the actual assessment. Since Santa Clara County represents several of the primary potential customers for the Wireless Silicon Valley network, the analysis project could affect the plans for the ambitious system stretching from Santa Cruz to South San Francisco

The Silicon Valley network will cost $100 million to $150 million to build and is expected to serve several million residents and businesspeople. The cities are not footing the bill to build the network, said Seth Fearey, the executive director of Smart Valley, an organization promoting public access to information technology in the Silicon Valley region. But they will be asked to commit to paying for a certain level of service once the system is in place.

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