Firm looks to reconnect Wi-Fi deal

A competitive broadband provider is breathing new life into plans to launch a service providing public wireless Internet access across Silicon Valley and the Peninsula.

Covad Communications tapped San Carlos as well as Palo Alto recently for Wi-Fi test networks with the hopes of expanding the plan and creating a 1,500-square-mile “canopy” of wireless access for residents and businesses from Daly City to Gilroy.

The plan for widespread Wi-Fi access was initially hatched by a consortium of Azulstar Networks, Cisco Systems, IBM and Seakay, which announced in 2006 that they would build and operate the regional wireless network.

But the group struggled to raise the investment money to build the regional network by late last year and the plan collapsed, consortium principal Anne-Marie Fowler said.

But San Jose-based Covad has stepped in to take up the reins for the project. The company will provide service in a square mile of downtown San Carlos to see whether its business model makes sense to expand to a broader region, said Alan Howe, vice president of wireless strategic development for Covad.

“We’re not giving up on our vision,” said Seth Fearey, vice president and COO of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, the cooperative organizing the regional wireless plan.

The project will target only businesses initially. Alan Howe, vice president of wireless strategy at Covad, said the company will look at city governments and public safety agencies next.

Covad, which offers broadband services to more than 3,500 businesses and municipalities in the Bay Area, Southern California, Las Vegas and Chicago, will install 40 to 45 access mini-antennas on light posts. The process is expected to kick off within the next 30 days, Howe said. The test period would then run for about 90 days.

The project will not provide free Wi-Fi exclusively, Howe said. Covad hopesto launch several tiers of wireless access in the city, some less than $100 a month.

Covad already supplies broadband service in San Carlos, which will make it easier for the firm to provide service, said Assistant City Manager Brian Moura.

While leaders haven’t ironed out specifically which square mile will be tested, it should be roughly bounded by Holly Street, Industrial Road, Howard Avenue and Alameda de las Pulgas, Moura said.

The San Carlos Chamber of Commerce will soon begin contacting local businesses letting them know about the free trial, said chamber President Sheryl Pomerenk.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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