Wilmington, N.C., helps pioneer ‘white space’ network products

The Original Story: In 2010, Wilmington became the first city in the nation to begin testing TV “white spaces” and applications. White space networks take advantage of unused bands of wireless spectrum that were left over when television broadcasters switched from analog to digital. Wilmington was a natural choice to be a guinea pig for applications based on white space networks. The city was the first major market in the U.S. to switch to digital TV in 2008.

In spring 2010, Government Technology reported that Wilmington planned to use wireless traffic cameras at intersections to monitor traffic, travel time and fuel consumption, and to support local law enforcement. In addition, water-level sensors would be used to monitor and manage wetland areas in the coastal city without a boat trip.

Project Update: As planned, Wilmington became a valuable test bed for white space devices and it has put the technology to work on several “smart city” initiatives.

In 2011, the FCC officially approved the use of white space for wireless broadband networks. The ruling was significant because wireless broadband requires the use of spectrum, which is a limited resource. Using white space to provide broadband service is now part of the FCC’s overall plan to find more wireless spectrum and expand broadband availability across the country.

Today, Wilmington uses white space spectrum to monitor real-time water quality and traffic conditions on roads that previously lacked access to a broadband connection. In addition, the city helped with the development of new white space devices that are just now reaching the market.

“Over the past couple of years, Wilmington has done a lot of work with original equipment manufacturers and radio vendors to test and evaluate their products,” said Rodney Dir, president and CEO of Spectrum Bridge Inc., a company involved in the early testing efforts.

In 2012, the FCC approved the first white space device. There are several additional devices pending approval. Estimates are that by the end of 2013 there could be six FCC-certified devices available, many of which were tested in Wilmington. -- Justine Brown

As the Gmail contract ends, is L.A. done with Google?

The original story: Los Angeles stepped way out on a limb in 2009, becoming the biggest city in the nation to move its entire email system — used by 30,000 municipal employees — to Google’s Gmail service. The city’s massive shift to the cloud would become one of the most closely watched IT deployments in local government over the next several years. Los Angeles CTO Randi Levin told Government Technology in 2010 that using Gmail to replace the city’s in-house GroupWise email system would let her eliminate 92 servers and reassign nine employees responsible for maintaining that equipment. In addition, city workers would get more reliable email and a suite of new features.

Project Update: Four years later, the project never exactly delivered on its promises and never was completely finished. Although the city moved email for 17,000 employees into the cloud, it could never transition police and other public safety personnel to the hosted system, leaving about 13,000 employees on the GroupWise platform. The city formally abandoned plans to move cops into the cloud in 2011, citing security concerns.

Now Steve Reneker, who replaced Levin as city CTO last year, is prepared to rebid the contract. Los Angeles’ five-year contract with Google ends in a year, and Reneker said he has no preconceptions about what the city will do next.

“We are at a juncture right now,” he said.

Reneker said the next contract will be 10 years long and split into three parts: email, applications and security. That will give Los Angeles flexibility. His sense is that city employees are comfortable with Gmail and don’t want to switch away from it, but he says “conversion issues” between Google Docs and Microsoft Office have made life difficult. Most city departments still prefer Office.

The Los Angeles Police Department will continue to use an on-premises email system, Reneker added, to ensure compliance with California Department of Justice requirements.

Reneker credits his predecessors in the Los Angeles Information Technology Agency for making a bold move, even though there were unforeseen obstacles and some erroneous assumptions. He said Gmail “significantly” reduced total cost of ownership for the city’s email, even though the extent of the savings hasn’t been what was forecast in 2009. -- Matt Williams

New Jersey county’s fingerprint identity program spreads to the state

The original story: In 2010, Bergen County, N.J., began scanning the fingerprints of people coming to its food banks. The new technology was meant to solve a dilemma the county had dealt with for years: Its Department of Human Services (DHS) could not accurately estimate how many homeless individuals received services like food, medicine and shelter. Because many people served by the department did not have accurate forms of identification, DHS staff had no way to track who was receiving services or how often.

“It’s not like you can do a head count,” said Susan Nottingham, the department’s Homeless Management Information System administrator. “We could sit down and say, ‘Can we talk to you for 45 minutes?’ But we didn’t want them to turn around and say, ‘We’re not that hungry.’”

Project Update: Bergen County’s fingerprint technology appears to be working as intended, and use of biometric identification is spreading to the state level. County officials say the technology improved both the accuracy of records and the speed in which people receive food. The Bergen County DHS now has a more accurate account of the number of people in the system and the real demand for services. With this information, officials have been more effective in getting state and federal funding for homelessness programs.

The county system also inspired state officials to phase in a similar tracking system for homeless services. In April 2013, New Jersey began using a new biometrics data management system that includes a Web-based fingerprinting component to track and manage food, shelter, medicinal services and other necessities the state provides to its homeless population. The system will help state officials track who is receiving homeless services and the types of services rendered.  -- Justine Brown