A proposal to blanket 1,500 square miles of Silicon Valley with affordable wireless access to the Internet stepped closer to reality Tuesday after a joint task force selected Silicon Valley Metro Connect to build and operate the network.

Metro Connect, a tech consortium that includes Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) and IBM Corp. (IBM), said it secured the winning bid from the Wireless Silicon Valley Task Force.

Further approvals by individual municipalities still need to be worked out, however, before the wireless network aimed to serve the region's 2.4 million residents gets built.

Dozens of other communities across the United States, including the city of San Francisco, also are planning similar public wireless networks, but the Silicon Valley project would be one of the largest in scope.

The Wireless Silicon Valley Task Force, comprised of local government officials and representatives from utility companies, is proposing a network of thousands of radio transceivers that could carry Internet signals from South San Francisco all the way south through Santa Cruz.

The project would essentially create a giant "Wi-Fi hotspot" like ones frequently found at individual airports and coffee shops.

Metro Connect said its privately owned and operated network would be financed through sponsorships, giving residents in the region free access to basic Wi-Fi service at broadband speeds.

Additional features, however, such as Internet-based phone calls or streaming video, would carry some fees. Actual pricing for the paid services have not yet been determined.