County chooses wireless network provider

While an agreement reached Tuesday puts the county on track to become part of one of the largest public, wireless networks in the nation, officials warned residents against dumping their wired Internet providers just yet.

Metro Connect, a joint effort involving Azulstar, Cisco Systems and IBM, was tapped Tuesday to install and run a new Wi-Fi network that will extend for more than 1,000 square miles from Daly City to Gilroy, including all cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

Metro Connect edged out MetroFi for its ability to provide nearly double the coverage area, along with increased dependability as a result of more signal receivers, according to Seth Fearey, Joint Venture Silicon Valley vice president. Joint Venture and the San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority have co-sponsored the project.

“This is fantastic!” Fearey said. “But don’t throw out your wire line service yet, until we see how it works.”

Aside from providing e-mail services for residents, Fearey and others envision the network being used by public works and police officials to file reports from the field, monitor downtown parking meter, and collect data on water quality throughout the county.

“The high-speed outdoor free services that the Metro Connect proposal offers will provide an extra level of convenience to our residents, but it will also allow business people, service workers, public safety officials and visitors to be more productive as they move around the Valley,” said Brian Moura, chairman of the authority and San Carlos assistant city manager.

While details are yet to be hammered out, the Metro Connect network would offer multiple tiers of service, ranging from free outdoor service at slower speeds to paid high-speed residential and commercial access. Tiers for secure government and emergency use are also part of the plan.

The public would be able to connect to the Internet wirelessly using computers, cellular phones or PDAs from city parks, public buildings and even cars, if stationary, according to officials.

The initialinstallations could take from nine months to a year, leaving cities to compete for who can reach a deal with Metro Connect and approve the proper permits first, Moura said.

In most of the region customers will be able to bring the outdoor signal indoors with the aid of special, signal-boosting equipment costing from $80 to $120, officials said. The free service, combined with customer-purchased signal boosters, has the potential to dramatically increase the number of people with access to the Internet, including those who have not been able to afford a connection, Moura said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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