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Council meets to discuss city-wide wireless network
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 The Statesboro City Council will hold a special called meeting today at 11 a.m to discuss a possible contract with Clearwire Communications regarding the development of a city-wide wireless network.
    Though the terms of the contract are not finalized, the project has an estimated cost of $687,000 with $364,000 coming from the city and the rest coming from a Wireless Communities Program grant awarded to the city in January 2008.
    By accepting that money, the city pledged to match the grant 50 percent – meaning it would have to commit $161,649 to the project. However, it was determined that an additional $200,000 would need to be spent to install enough equipment to provide adequate coverage.
    The grant proposal was put together with the help of wireless consultant, Karl Edwards of Excelsio communications. After the grant was awarded, the city hired Edwards to handle the proposal and implementation process for the wireless system. On the city’s behalf, Edwards negotiated the contract with Clear Wireless LLC, which operates as Clearwire.
    The project will install Wi-MAX transmitters on four locations around the city. Wi-MAX is an emerging standard, reportedly longer ranging and more reliable, albeit less ubiquitous, than standard wireless, or Wi-Fi. Despite the longer range, there is concern that Wi-MAX is not able the adequately penetrate into buildings or into residences surrounded by thick foliage.
    According to the rough draft of the document, Clearwire will offer three levels of service: $25 per month for Georgia Southern students, up to $60 for residential customers and from $50 to $80 for commercial customers. Speeds should be about 2 Mbps upload and .5 Mbps download, which approximates DSL speeds.
    In order for customers to utilize the Wi-MAX network, they would have to purchase a Wi-MAX card for their computers or lease one from their service provider, since the Wi-MAX standard is not compatible with existing wireless cards. The cards and similarly functioning USB “dongles” are new to the market, so not yet widely available, and initially are expected to cost from $150 to $200.
    In addition to subscriber service, the city will receive 130 Clearwire accounts along with dongles which can access either the Wi-MAX network or connect to a standard 3G cell phone tower, if the user is out of the Wi-MAX coverage area. These accounts will be traded for access to two of the city’s water towers for Clearwire to install Wi-MAX transmitters. And since access to a cellular network still needs to be negotiated and it remains to be seen how much of the city the Wi-MAX network actually covers, it is unclear how much with city will spend for ongoing expenses.
    This January, three wireless providers submitted proposals to the city to obtain the wireless development contract. However, an internal city committee and Edwards jointly recommended that council set aside all three proposals and move forward accordingly. This led to the negotiations between Edwards, acting on the city’s behalf, and Clearwire.
    In order to keep access to the grant money, the project must be implemented by Dec. 31 of this year. Edwards said the actual installation of the technology will take about a month, but about 70 percent of the implementation time is spent obtaining permits and negotiating land deals.

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