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Silicon Valley city offers free Wi-Fi via smart meters

Santa Clara is the first U.S. city to take high-tech advantage of the conversion from electric meters to smart meters to give free outdoor Wi-Fi to all of its residents.

Leave it to a city in Silicon Valley to become the first in the U.S. to use smart meters to bring all of its residents free outdoor Wi-Fi.

Santa Clara, Calif., debuted its new service this week after installing nearly 600 transmitters throughout the city, according to the Mercury News. The name of the network is "SVPMeterConnectWifi."

"We are the first utility in the nation to offer free Wi-Fi as part of the smart meter rollout," manager with Silicon Valley Power Larry Owens, the community's utility provider, told the Mercury News. "It's been up less than a week and we're seeing 3,000 users a day."

While much of the U.S. is converting from electric meters to smart meters, Santa Clara has been doing something slightly different along the way. The smart meters it's been installing have a separate Wi-Fi channel in addition to the usual capability of sending household electricity and water usage reports.

According to the Mercury News, it has cost the city very little to include the Wi-Fi addition. The service is unencrypted, which means it's not as secure as a private paid-for home service.

Free Wi-Fi has been increasing in the U.S. over the past few years. Google blanketed the town of Mountain View, where its headquarters are located, with free Wi-Fi years ago. And, more recently, dozens of companies have begun offering free hotspots in major cities like New York and San Francisco. However, Santa Clara is the first city, rather than company, to offer its residents the service citywide.