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Calif. city gets free Wi-Fi via high tech meters

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The city of Santa Clara flipped on a big Internet switch this week, becoming what it says is the first city in the country to use wireless digital ‘‘smart meters’’ on homes as channels for free citywide outdoor Wi-Fi.

‘‘This is just one of the major benefits our community will enjoy as a result of our advanced metering technology,’’ said John Roukema, director of Silicon Valley Power, the community’s utility provider. ‘‘Now our residents, visitors, and local workforce can get Internet access while waiting for a train, shopping downtown, getting their car washed, or relaxing in their yard.’’

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Santa Clara’s electric meters are being systematically replaced with high-tech ones, eliminating the need to have meter readers manually check each one every month. The meters send electricity and water usage reports via wireless network but also have a separate channel that provides free outdoor Internet.

Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute in Washington, D.C., said using meters as Internet channels is a ‘‘a real Faustian bargain,’’ a smart use of technology that will require ‘‘privacy protections that are second to none.’’

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