Intel (Profile, Products, Articles) publicly lined up behind municipal wireless networking projects on Thursday, kicking off an initiative with hardware, software, and networking partners to help communities around the world to carry out the sometimes controversial rollouts.

Cisco Systems (Profile, Products, Articles), Dell (Profile, Products, Articles), IBM (Profile, Products, Articles), and SAPalso are part of the Digital Communities initiative, along 16 other companies, including wireless vendors such as Alvarion, security vendor Check Point Software Technologies (Profile, Products, Articles), and British Telecommunications. Intel has already helped 13 pilot communities design, develop, and deploy systems and services, Intel said.

Cities can improve their quality of life by providing Internet access to residents and by improving government services such as permit applications and emergency response by using wireless technologies, said Anand Chandrasekher, vice president and general manager of Intel's sales and marketing group, during a conference call to announce the initiative.

"When you combine these all together, the hope is for economic vitality in the communities," he said. "Our vision ... is as you unwire communities and layer services and applications on top of it, it should make life better for people."

Local governments can use wireless technology to lower their own operational costs, enhance public safety and security, provide equal and affordable broadband access, and promote growth and competitiveness in their communities, Intel said. Cities already working with the Digital Communities technologies are using it to provide widespread wireless Internet access to residents and to give city employees such as water meter readers and housing inspectors instant access to information while they are in the field, said mayors participating in the Thursday conference call.

Taipei is using wireless networks to give thousands of students free access to e-learning courses, said Mayor Ma Ying-jeou. The mayor plans to have 90 percent of the city covered by wireless access points by the end of the year, using short-range Wi-Fi and WiMax long-range wireless Internet access, he said.

"Technology developed by Intel, namely WiMax, will play a great role," Ma said. "If you want to cover a city of 2.6 million people, that's something that's not that easy [using Wi-Fi]," he said.

However, the idea of governments building wireless networks or providing services has come under attack from some corners, namely incumbent service providers. Last year the City of Philadelphia reached a deal with Verizon Communications that let it go forward with a planned wireless broadband service around the city, but carriers helped get a state bill passed that allows service providers to block such projects.

Verizon opposes paid services offered by cities and municipalities on the grounds that governments have unfair advantages, such as being able to tap into public funds and not having to pay taxes, the company said last year.

Philadelphia is one of the pilot cities in the Intel initiative. Others are Cleveland, Taipei, and Corpus Christi, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Mangaratiba, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Dusseldorf, Germany, Gyor, Hungary; Jerusalem; Monaco; Seoul; Osaka and the Westminster area of London.

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