join the network. And there is precedent for county and municipal collaboration. In 1999, Sweeney said, counties -- together with school districts, municipalities and other government agencies -- created the South Jersey Power Cooperative. In Gloucester County alone, 17 municipalities and school districts belong to the cooperative.

Outdoor Wi-Fi

In New York, Suffolk and Nassau counties have launched WiFi Long Island with the goal of providing Wi-Fi access to all 900 square miles of Suffolk County and 300 square miles of Nassau County. The push for the Wi-Fi network came from Steve Levy, county executive of Suffolk County, who created a 15-member Suffolk County Wireless Commission (SCWC) in February 2006 to orchestrate the WiFi Long Island initiative. The SCWC includes representatives from the private and public sectors, higher education and other entities.

WiFi Long Island differs from other municipal Wi-Fi initiatives because the goal isn't to provide service inside every home in the two counties, said Sharon Cates-Williams, CIO and commissioner of Suffolk County's Department of Information Technology. Cates-Williams also serves as co-chair of the SCWC, along with legislator Wayne Horsley.

"We're talking about an outdoor network," Cates-Williams said. "It's another level of service, because we recognize that, in the future, more work is going to be done outside the home. There's going to be more of a need for a mobile work force. We already have a mobile work force out there, and we want to help them operate more efficiently."

The wireless network would provide a backbone for service providers that, in turn, would offer tiers of wireless connectivity to residential customers. The counties themselves will not own or operate the network.

The two counties issued an RFP in January 2007, and set a deadline of March 19, 2007, for interested vendors to submit proposals. Suffolk and Nassau formed a nonprofit entity known as the Wireless Suffolk County Local Development Corporation (LDC) in late 2006 to negotiate with local governments inside the counties for access to assets owned by towns, villages and utility companies.

"The local development corporation would do all the legwork so the responder [to the RFP] won't have to go to every town and village," Cates-Williams said, adding that WiFi Long Island leaders may create a global agreement between the Wireless Suffolk County LDC and the 107 municipalities on Long Island.

"For example, should the provider need to install a wireless node on a facility or streetlight located and owned by a town or village, the global agreement would define the permitting process and ultimately eliminate the need to negotiate on an individual basis," she said. "We don't know if the towns and villages are going to accept it, but we do plan to recommend this method of operation."

The two counties expect a good crop of vendors to vie for the right to build the network, given the level of response to the initial RFI released in July 2006.

Heavyweights such as IBM, Motorola, Verizon and Cablevision replied to the 2006 RFI, as did National Grid Wireless, a U.S.-based subsidiary of National Grid. The parent company delivers electricity and natural gas to the Northeastern United States, and National Grid Wireless provides telecommunications infrastructure and wireless services.

The SCWC's inclusion of representatives from higher education -- specifically from the Center for Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology (CEWIT), one of Stony Brook University's three research and development incubators -- also sets WiFi Long Island apart from other municipal Wi-Fi initiatives.

When Suffolk's Levy first considered WiFi Long Island, he met with the CEWIT's CEO, who's also the dean of Stony Brook's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, to discuss the merits of the idea, Cates-Williams said.

"We think the educational institutions on the island are really going to benefit from this wireless initiative," she said, adding that

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor