Comcast creating nearly 200 Wi-Fi hotspots in Sonoma County

Comcast unveiled nearly 200 Wi-Fi hot spots in Sonoma County on Thursday, surprising some city officials who said they were unaware the company had been building a network that gives its customers free access to the Internet away from their homes.

Comcast said it intends to continue expanding the network, which already lines much of the Bay Area and extends into several cities in the Central Valley.

"The goal is not to build a network that covers every square inch. The goal is to extend the Internet experience of the home to the outside world," Comcast spokesman Bryan Byrd said.

The service is provided by small antennas and routers inside businesses and on outside poles where Comcast already has equipment, which usually fall outside any ordinances of local jurisdictions.

The hot spots cover much of north central Santa Rosa and smaller sections of seven other cities in Sonoma County, according to a map published on Comcast's website.

The network includes a dozen hot spots in Sebastopol, where citizens concerned about the health effects of radiation from wireless radio devices fought previous Wi-Fi proposals and PG&E's introduction of SmartMeters.

Officials with the EMF Safety Network, which was founded in Sebastopol, did not immediately return telephone calls and emails seeking comment Thursday.

Four years ago, Sebastopol blocked local Internet service provider Sonic.net from installing Wi-Fi hot spots in town over emissions concerns.

Comcast did not contact most cities in advance, including Sebastopol, because the hot spots are regulated only by Comcast's statewide franchise agreement, Byrd said. The radio waves fall within emission standards established by the Federal Communications Commission, he said.

Sebastopol officials were surprised to learn of the rollout.

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