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Ref: Sacramento's Metro Connect project to begin constructing city-wide WiFi

Sacramento Bee

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Capital Wi-Fi project to start




After two delays, a $1 million initial phase downtown is set to be launched.

By Darrell Smith - dvsmith@sacbee.com
Published 12:00 am PST Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sacramento is taking another crack at citywide wireless service and plans to launch a downtown pilot program in February.

The funding for the $1 million pilot project is in place, bankrolled by Sacramento Metro Connect LLC.

The project, which was delayed for the second time last autumn, will center on a chunk of the city's downtown grid bounded by the Sacramento River and 16th, H and R streets. It is to be completed by May.

"We're thrilled that it's come back together," said City Councilman Rob Fong. "This will keep Sacramento at the forefront."

The pilot is the first phase of a $9 million three-phase project, said Steven Ferguson, the city's chief information officer.

The next two phases, seen as a continuous rollout, would cover 46 square miles and then 48 square miles across the city over the next 20 to 24 months, starting from city-owned buildings and working outward, Ferguson said.

Ultimately, Metro Connect would cover up to 95 percent of Sacramento with wireless Internet access.

Connections of up to 1 megabit per second are to be free, but will include pop-up ads. Metro Connect could charge between $15 and $50 a month for those who want faster connections.

The city of Sacramento would have the option of buying wireless at discounted rates for its mobile employees, for heating and air conditioning and utility control systems, Ferguson said.

Locally and nationwide, results have been hit-and-miss. West Sacramento and Elk Grove are among Sacramento-area cities with Wi-Fi, while Folsom has scaled back its initial wireless efforts.

Leaders believe Sacramento will be the first major city to move forward with its wireless plans after recent high-profile setbacks in San Francisco, Chicago and St. Louis.

"So many cities have tried to do it, but we've stuck to it," Fong said. "We want to say Sacramento is open for business 24-7. Once the city is covered with Wi-Fi, we can make that claim."

That will depend on whether Metro Connect can reach its target.

The group is backed by tech powerhouses Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems, which ponied up a $750,000 hardware lease to jump-start the pilot phase.

The ongoing credit crunch left other potential backers skittish and delayed plans until Metro Connect was able to secure the pilot funding, Ferguson said.

"It was seen as somewhat risky, and it was difficult for (Metro Connect) to set up funding," Ferguson said. "If they demonstrate success, other funding will follow."

Ferguson said city leaders are determined to see the project through. "The council is in favor of moving ahead, even with the risk that it could stall after the pilot," he said.

Earlier efforts to go wireless sputtered amid financing troubles when Metro Connect couldn't round up the estimated $9 million needed for the whole project.

Deals in recent years with Michigan-based provider Azulstar and Maryland-based MobilePro to provide citywide wireless service in Sacramento also went by the wayside.

But city officials say their patience through the delays will be rewarded.

"Sacramento's a very attractive market with state government and a transient work force. We can tap into that," Ferguson said.

Copyright © The Sacramento Bee

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