Silicon Valley group pushes for local wireless network

The plan includes public service enhancements

The region that spawned the microprocessor and helped wire the world now wants to unwire itself with the help of local chip giant Intel Corp.

A coalition involving about two dozen city and county governments, a regional policy group and Intel wants to set up outdoor wireless Internet access over a broad area around California's Silicon Valley, the group announced Thursday. The network, which it said would cover about 1,500 square miles, is envisioned as a tool for many purposes, including improving government services, attracting conventions and business and helping residents get Internet access, according to Richard Ajluni, director of external relations for Joint Venture: Silicon Valley.

That organization, made up of local leaders from business, government and other sectors, is spearheading the initiative. The proposal is also backed by the San Mateo County Telecommunications Authority (SAMCAT), a regional body for telecommunications and cable TV issues that represents 16 cities in the county just south of San Francisco. In addition, the County of Santa Clara and the cities of Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Palo Alto, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz will make financial contributions and participate in the project. The coalition also is seeking participation and funds from 26 other cities and counties in the area.

The working group created for the project, Wireless Silicon Valley Task Force, chose Intel to develop an RFP (request for proposal), with the aim of putting it out before the end of April. The Santa Clara company's Intel Solutions Services division will donate some of its consulting services as an in-kind contribution. Intel won't respond to the RFP as a vendor, according to Ajluni. It has done similar consulting work for Portland, Oregon, and other cities.

The RFP won't prescribe a particular technology or business model, leaving the field open for a variety of respondents to propose different solutions, he said.

Municipal wireless networks are drawing widespread interest among local governments as well as opposition from some traditional service providers that say governments shouldn't get into the network business. In San Francisco, a few miles north of the proposed Silicon Valley network, the city has issued an RFP for a wireless network that may be provided by Google Inc. and supported by location-specific ads.

Based on participation so far, areas covered by the network would extend from Daly City, just south of San Francisco, all the way south to Gilroy and Santa Cruz, and from Pacifica on the Pacific coast to Fremont, on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

A wireless network throughout the cities could help police monitor crime scenes, emergency crews download medical records and government agencies monitor infrastructure such as flood control, Ajluni said.

The greatest interest in the network so far has been for city workers and other professionals to get Internet access while on the road, though it may bring affordable indoor broadband to some parts of the region for the first time, according to Brian Moura, assistant city manager of San Carlos and chairman of SAMCAT. Those gaps are most often in commercial districts rather than residential areas, where cable TV is widely deployed, he said.

The high-tech region has the opposite problem from many municipalities taking initiatives on Wi-Fi, according to Moura. Too many wireless startups have proposed networks in the area to show off their technology, he said.

"Having a structured process like this will give us a better way to evaluate those proposals and decide which one is best for our community," Moura said. "I don't think you want to be in a position of going with a certain vendor just because they're the first one to call your city."

"A lot of the cities we've talked to around the country have said, 'Gee, we wish we had your dilemma,'" Moura said.