as a government entity operating as a nonprofit -- assuming the 10 communities can come to terms on the IGA's structure and language.

"Whoever is awarded the bid will actually be in contract negotiations with the CWC, not with 10 individual communities," he said. "That was really what we were trying to achieve. We felt if we could come up with a single entity that a private-sector carrier would have to negotiate with, it would be a lot more attractive than having to deal with multiple entities that have different needs and agendas."

Even with the RFP's release, the CWC must determine how to clear several hurdles -- perhaps the most significant of which involves member cities' infrastructure assets. "Assets are still going to be one challenge of the project because each city has its own constraints as to what it can or can't offer up," Bennett said. "There are some legal mechanisms we're trying to get off to the attorneys to figure out how to deal with some of these constraints."

The problem stems from the difference between city charters and which permits a private-sector company must obtain from a city to gain access to infrastructure assets, such as rights of way, traffic light poles or street sign poles, he said. The 10 CWC communities will discuss asset issues as part of crafting the IGA.

Another asset issue concerns how a commercial vendor could access the region's power poles, which are owned by Xcel Energy. "This creates a fairly large challenge," Bennett said. "In some other initiatives around the country, the cities themselves own the power poles, which make it a lot easier."

Civitium is negotiating with the energy company about a pole-lease rate, which should help keep the project attractive to vendors replying to the RFP.

County Wi-Fi

A couple thousand miles away, two New Jersey counties, Camden and Gloucester, announced plans in December 2006 to begin work on a joint Wi-Fi network that would cover their combined 550 square miles, and offer free or low-cost service to 800,000 residents.

It's early in the process, said Steve Sweeney, director of the Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and the counties began 2007 by putting the RFP together and searching for a firm to perform a feasibility study of the proposed Wi-Fi cloud.

The RFP was slated for release in March. At the end of the 90-day response period, Sweeney said, the counties will consider their options, including what proposed business model would work best for the Wi-Fi cloud.

Sweeney said the counties became interested in collaborating on a Wi-Fi cloud because alone they were at a disadvantage with respect to economic development opportunities, and they didn't already have countywide broadband to speak of. "If we can come up with a Wi-Fi network, it will make our region much more competitive," he said. "My county has roughly 275,000 residents. Camden County has 500,000 residents. Individually we're not a big enough market for someone to be really attracted to. Together, we feel we're more attractive."

Sweeney, who's also a state senator, said some towns in his legislative district, which covers southern New Jersey, are so small that residents don't even have cable TV -- a harsh economic reality that he said he understands. "For the cable companies and the Verizons of the world, it's not profitable to run their technology down there," he said. "There aren't enough customers. A Wi-Fi cloud will give these communities the potential to have Internet access at a very affordable price, whether it be free or low cost."

Neither county assumed a "lead" role, according Sweeney. Both counties' IT departments pitch in where necessary, and both counties kicked in $125,000 each to fund the feasibility study. If the cloud gets built, the counties would encourage other, surrounding counties to

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor