When Rich Sheridan and David Behen sat down to lunch one afternoon last fall, they shared more than just a meal – they shared a vision of total Internet coverage in Washtenaw County.

After mulling over the idea, they decided the best way would be a wireless network. And so Washtenaw Wireless was born.

“The purpose of pursuing this is to provide wireless Internet throughout Washtenaw County,” said Sheridan, president and CEO of Menlo Innovations, a software applications developer.

Wireless Washtenaw has spawned a collaborative project between Wasthenaw County and the private sector to establish complete wireless access to the county. The network, which was approved by the Board of Commissioners of Washtenaw County, is slated to be up and running by the end of 2007.

“(The project) will put Washtenaw on the map as a technological innovator,” he added. Along with Behen, who is the director of information technology for Washtenaw County, Sheridan has taken a lead role in the project.

When the project is put into effect, Washtenaw country residents would be able to check e-mail in a park or surf the web while sitting in any cafe at no charge.

This is because the wireless company running the network will offer basic wireless service in exchange for access to assets in cities – such as tall buildings or light poles – that can be used as mounting points for heavy wireless communications.

Washtenaw County will get free basic wireless Interent access because it will offer mounting points for the wireless companies, said Uma Harithsa, manager of applied technology for Washtenaw County.

Customers who want to go beyond basic wireless can upgrade through the wireless provider or subscribe to other users, Harithsa said.

Ken Unterbrink, Lima Township supervisor, said one benefit of the project is that it will be privately owned, allowing for competition.

“Hopefully there will be more companies (to compete as well), though it depends on who provides the best service and price,” Unterbrink said.

Washtenaw Wireless will act as a facilatator between the county and wireless companies competing to run the network. Eighteen companies have expressed interest in building and devolping the network.

Behen said he was excited by the high response.

“The time has finally arrived for true government, business and education partnership,” Behen said.

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje was not available for comment.

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