The city of Santa Clara, in northern California, this week became the first in the country to use wireless digital electric meters in homes as a channel to offer free outdoor WiFi citywide.
“This is just one of the important benefits that our community will enjoy as a result of our advanced technology counters,” said John Roukema, director of Silicon Valley Power, the municipal electric company. “Now, our residents, visitors and the local workforce can access the Internet when waiting for a train, they are shopping in the center, waiting washing their cars or simply relax in their backyards.”
As cities around the country, electricity meters in Santa Clara are being systematically replaced, house by house, with high technology counters, eliminating the need for employees to manually read meters every month, but creating concerns about health effects , privacy and cost.A new Silicon Valley Power electric meter with separate channel for free Wi-Fi. (KABC Photo / Silicon Valley Power)
The new meters send usage reports of water and electricity via a wireless network, but in Santa Clara, a city of 118,000 inhabitants in the heart of Silicon Valley, also have a separate channel that provides Internet access. The technology will also spot outages quickly and help customers monitor their own electricity usage.
Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute in Washington, said using the Internet as a channel counters is “a true Faustian bargain”, a clever use of technology will require “premium protections to privacy.”
“If you respect the privacy, residents have nothing to do if not enjoy it,” he said. “But if not, serious problems might occur in the future.”
Many communities have limited pockets of free WiFi, but so far these services are concentrated in major public places, such as parks, hospitals or libraries, or are sold by large companies like Google, which provides access throughout Mountain View.
Google recently created the biggest public WiFi area in the city of New York, in the Chelsea neighborhood, where the company has facilities.
“Using the Internet is no longer a luxury’s essential. Society generally requires connection to the Internet,” said Zach Leverenz, Connect2Compete CEO, a national organization that joined the Federal Communications Commission last week to launch a national campaign called “Everyone on” (Everyone connected). Its purpose is to provide free digital training, Internet services affordable and low-priced computers to 100 million people across the country who do not currently have Internet access in their homes.
Information about the Wi-Fi access system is available at www.santaclarafreewifi.com