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A Brilliant Next Act?

1:00 PM -- Just as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) noses deeper into public access WiFi with partner EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK), one of the ghosts of hotspots past has joined the search giant. (See Google & EarthLink Team Up.)

Larry Brilliant, the former CEO of Cometa Networks, has been appointed executive director of Google.org, which administers the company's philanthropic activities.

Regular readers will remember Cometa: Back in 2002, the Silicon Valley startup unveiled ambitious plans to carpet metropolitan areas of the U.S. with tens of thousands of WiFi access points. (See Rainbow Unveiled.) Backed by names like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Cometa briefly looked as if it might produce the first real flowering of a nationwide WiFi network.

That didn't happen. Brilliant's tenure at the helm was short-lived, and the firm flamed out in 2004, way behind in its rollout schedule and beset with rumors of infighting among the big names backing it. (See Cometa Closes.)

Brilliant has always had an interest in public health issues; he left Cometa to work as a "first responder" for the Centers for Disease Control, so Google's choice isn't all that surprising. (See His Brilliant Career.)

Cometa's hubris, however, provides a cautionary example for many of the companies now talking up citywide metro-mesh "hotzones" as the future of broadband.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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