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The availability of inexpensive CMOS cameras and microphones that can ubiquitously capture multimedia content from the environment is fostering the development of Wireless Multimedia Sensor Networks (WMSNs), i.e., distributed systems of wirelessly networked devices that can retrieve video and audio streams, still images, and scalar sensor data. WMSNs require the sensor network paradigm to be re-thought in view of the need for mechanisms to deliver multimedia content with a pre-defined level of quality of service (QoS). A new rate control scheme for WMSNs is introduced in this paper with a two-fold objective: i) maximize the video quality of each individual video stream; ii) maintain fairness in video quality between different video streams. The rate control scheme is based on both analytical and empirical models and consists of a new cross-layer control algorithm that jointly regulates the end-to-end data rate, the video quality, and the strength of the channel coding at the physical layer. The end-to-end data rate is regulated to avoid congestion while maintaining fairness in the domain of video quality rather than data rate. Once the end-to-end data rate has been determined, the sender adjusts the video encoder rate and the channel encoder rate based on the overall rate and the current channel quality, with the objective of minimizing the distortion of the received video. Simulations show that the proposed algorithm considerably improves the received video quality without sacrificing fairness.