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Covad Communications has stepped in as the primary network provider on the stalled Silicon Valley Wireless project. Covad will use Cisco mesh gear to build upon its existing footprint, starting with a small pilot program in San Carlos.

The three-month pilot will only cover one-square-mile in downtown San Carlos. No consumer service is planned, free or otherwise, at least to start.

If the pilot in San Carlos proves viable, Covad will gradually build the network out to serve other municipalities on the Peninsula.

The grandeous Wireless Silicon Valley vision of two years ago was first scaled back to several test phases. Then, Azulstar, the startup that was to build and operate the network, couldn’t get funding even for two test networks, at about $500,000 each.

Azulstar was chosen as the operator by Metro Connect, the partnership of Cisco, IBM and nonprofit SeaKay that won the RFP competition. Now Covad will give it a go.

Some 18 months ago, IBM, Cisco, Azulstar, and SeaKay planned to build, own, and operate a high-speed, outdoor, wireless network to serve 42 government entities and 2.4 million people, across 1,500 sq miles in Silicon Valley. The network was expected to include every City and County in both San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties as well as the cities of Fremont and Newark in Alameda County and the City of Santa Cruz.

But that was then.

In related news, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership has a new operator for its Downtown Wi-Fi network.

AspStation replaces US Wireless Online Inc. as the company responsible for maintaining the system and collecting subscribers’ payments. Louisville, Ky.-based US Wireless Online filed for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Oct. 8, 2007.

But AspStation will not charge the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership a dime, says the Pittsburgh Tribune.

“We’ll provide it for free,” said Ed DeHart, AspStation CEO. “We’d love for the system to break even, but it’s really a donation to the city for the next three years.”

The company charges $14.95 a month for users who go over the two-hour daily limit and expects to soon announce a lower monthly rate and to offer a daily rate for the first time. The partnership signed a three-year agreement with aspStation on Jan. 29, 2008.

Then there’s Philadelphia. After EarthLink announced it was getting out of the municipal Wi-Fi business, Philadelphia’s WiFi network was scaled back, according to Network World. EarthLink’s Wi-Fi coverage required more node density, going from 25 access points per sq mile to 42 per sq mile, increasing their cost. Client-side signal boosters were also required for improved reception. The network so far has left the northeast and northwest areas of the city unbuilt and without service.

EarthLink also ran into issues at the backhaul layer, where its rooftop towers are linked together. The plan was to use as many Motorola Canopy line-of-sight microwave radios as possible, but in order to get around corners and past trees, EarthLink has had to add Alvarion BreezeAccess VL non-line-of-sight radios.

Thus far, EarthLink’s costs are running double what the company anticipated at this point in the project. Total costs are now estimated at $15 million.

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