SANTA CLARA (CBS/AP) — The city of Santa Clara is flipping on a big Internet switch this week, becoming what it says is the first in the country to use wireless, digital “smart meters” on homes as channels for free citywide outdoor Wi-Fi.

Silicon Valley Power is replacing Santa Clara’s electric meters to eliminate door-by-door meter readers. The new meters send electricity and water usage reports via wireless network, but also have an unusual separate channel that provides free, outdoor Internet.

READ MORE: Bay Area Projects to Benefit From U.S. Infrastructure Funding

Many communities already have pockets or limited free Wi-Fi, often provided by Google or centered around public hotspots like parks, hospitals or libraries.

READ MORE: Central Valley Man On Probation For Elder Abuse Arrested In Father's Death

Sascha Meinrath, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Open Technology Institute, said using meters as Internet channels is “really smart” but warned that strong privacy protections must be installed as well.

MORE NEWS: UPDATE: San Jose Triple-Stabbing Suspect Fatally Struck On Hwy 85 Identified

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)