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The Houston City Council approved a plan with Earthlink on Wednesday to build a public wireless network that will provide discounted Internet access citywide.

The Council approved two separate contracts with Earthlink. The first is a citywide broadband license agreement for the 640-square-mile project. The second is a wireless service agreement for the city of Houston.

The city, as its anchor tenant, would pay at least $500,000 annually for five years to use the service.

Mayor Bill White has promised the city will not use tax dollars to build the $40-$50 million dollar network. The $500,000 annual fee, says Mayor White, is the discounted price the city would pay to use the network, not a project subsidy.

EarthLink was chosen to build a citywide wireless broadband network, in February. The service will be free in 5 percent of the city’s public areas, but the remainder of the city would be subject to fees from $10 to $22 per month. Deputy Director of Information Technology Janis Jefferson said the system should be completed in two years.

When it becomes operational, Houston is expected to have the largest Wi-Fi network in the country, covering nearly all of the city’s 600 square miles by spring of 2009.

The euphoria surrounding metropolitan WiFi networks is getting a heavy dose of reality, reports GigOm. Portland’s Personal Telco found Portland’s WiFi coverage lacking. The official performance review by Uptown Services is expected tomorrow.

The Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) is deploying a Cisco wireless mesh network in parallel to the Earthlink network, reports GovTech.

Houston METRO will deploy Cisco Aironet 1500 Series mesh access points at 47 locations throughout the city, including METRO Park and Ride lots and major stops.

At each of these locations, Houston METRO will link IP security cameras, which will watch for suspicious activities to the Aironet 1500 access points.

Additionally, Houston METRO is equipping 150 intersections with Cisco wireless and mobile routers. The Cisco 3200 Series Routers allow for traffic signal information to be uploaded without recurring monthly charges (using cellular) and provides for future traffic management enhancements, such as video surveillance and wireless hot spots for METRO employees and public safety officials.

The 3200 series Mobile routers (right) are rugged wireless routers that offer secure data, voice, and video communication, and support multiple wired and wireless links, including integrated 802.11b/g and 4.9 GHz wireless technologies.

Virtually all areas of METRO’S parking lots Рsome 440 acres total Рwill be monitored with the system, which includes 343 cameras that detect images good enough to be used in court. The program cost $16 million and includes adding network capabilities allowing Houston TranStar to remotely control 156 traffic signals in west Houston.

The City of Houston has ordered 750 solar powered electronic parking meters for a 1.9 mile area of downtown capable of accepting credit cards, coins and paper currency as well as providing maps of the surrounding areas. WFI will design and deploy the dedicated 802.11g WiFi network, the first of its kind, to support the parking meters.

This project represents the first municipal parking meter system in the U.S. that does not rely on a cellular network, but instead communicates exclusively using a dedicated 802.11g WiFi Network.

Corpus Christi’s WiFi Cloud uses an Automated Meter Reading application that automatically read utility meters throughout the 147 square miles of the city.

Seattle-based NetMotion Wireless enables seamless roaming for police officers and firefighters over the Tropos Networks in Milpitas, California. It can handoff to the Cingular cellular system when out of range from the WiFi network. Applications like the CalPhoto Database, DMV records and photos, hazardous materials databases, and video surveillance are utilzed. On-Net Surveillance Systems, Data911, Panasonic and Sony concentrate on wireless surveillence. Other municipal workers such as building inspectors, traffic engineers and code enforcement officers also have seamless roaming access to city and utility applications.

Accela Wireless has partnered with a number of companies to provide municipalities with wireless/WiMax solutions that allow building inspectors to take their workplace on the road. It uses a store-and-forward technology in which the home server periodically polls the client for new information.

Accela software was used by the City of New Orleans for gathering and tracking information about damaged buildings and structures. Armed with mobile devices running Accela Wireless, City inspectors are dispatched to the field to perform inspections in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes. Accela GIS, built on the ArcIMS platform by ESRI, provides automated maps from a central database and gives staff direct access to view geographic representations of all land use, zoning, and infrastructure information associated with a parcel, permit, inspection, or plan.

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