March 24, 2006 By Blake Harris
At a recent Digital Communities event in Los Angeles, CA, technology leaders from both the city and the county of Los Angeles presented what was in essence a call to action for wireless deployment. As well they described the pressing need to extend our vision to meet the multitude of challenges for living, working and governing within a 21st century global community.
The underlying imperative for the city of Los Angeles -- and by extension all communities -- was to make government more efficient at less cost and to promote economic development, according to Thera Bradshaw, general manager the city's Information Technology Agency
Bridging the digital divide is also something that communities must give a higher priority. "In the city of Los Angeles we really do have communities that are under served," she added. "And the key to serving everyone is in unwiring the city and allowing cities the opportunity, whether it is through their libraries or through recreational facilities to learn technology if they cannot afford technology in their homes."
The City of Los Angeles is moving in this direction and by the end of the year will have free wireless service in all libraries. And they will have extended computer training at recreational facilities and public kiosks. As well, they are working with partners in community redevelopment for creating Wi-Fi accessibility in the downtown area and at other civic centers.
Bradshaw noted that there are 66 municipalities that have installed municipal Wi-Fi and at least 34 additional projects today that are either in the planning stages or underway in communities.
She believes that communities need partners to move forward. "Our government budgets aren't getting any bigger," she said. "In fact, they are getting smaller." This is a trend that she doesn't see changing anytime soon.
At the same time, technology advancements move faster than government processes. For instance, it takes eight months from the time the city gets an RFP written to go through the processes and get it through committee. "We have to change our own city processes," she said. "... Otherwise, it's going to pass us by."
According to Jon Fullinwider, chief information officer of the
Los Angeles County, the vision must extend even further. "It's about our economic survival," he said. "It's about where the United States is going to be in the 21st century and whether we are going to be competitive enough to deal on a level playing field. We are already seeing our jobs outsourced."
Fullinwider argued that the challenges, when talking about digital communities, is more than just providing services to constituents or ensuring an educated work force. He maintained that we have to understand the role than technology plays in a modern world and what needs to be put into place to ensure communities have a sustainable, viable infrastructure to compete on the world stage.
"If we don't do that," he added, "we are going to have a far different conversation in 10 or 15 years time than we are having today."
For Fullinwider, a fundamental question is how effective government is going to be in bringing about this change. "It's certainly more than web sites," he said. "It's a philosophy, a strategy of progress. That's the challenge."
The video of this entire event, including the full presentations by Thera Bradshaw and Jon Fullinwider, will be online shortly in the Digital Communities Resource Center.
The next Digital Communities live event, similar to this one, will be held in Boston, MA on April 4th. Click here for more information.