What’s New in Civic Tech: Net Neutrality Item Heads to Congress Next Week

Plus, San Antonio seeks a smart city coordinator; San Francisco expands digital inclusion effort for public housing residents; and Philadelphia seeks input on city forms.

by / May 3, 2018

While Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai officially began the rollback of net neutrality protections in December, the efforts to prevent it have continued in Congress, and next week Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., plans to introduce a Congressional Review Act that could block Pai’s order.

Markey and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have announced they will officially file a discharge petition for the Congressional Review Act to reinstate net neutrality protections on Wednesday, May 9. In a press release, Markey’s office said they expect the support of all 49 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, as well as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. This leaves the effort one vote short. The deadline for a vote on the proposal is June 12.

“In 2018, access to a free and open Internet isn’t a privilege, it’s a right,” Senator Markey said in a press release. “Since the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality, we have witnessed a historic movement emerge to protect that right, and it continues to build. With only one more vote needed for my CRA resolution to undo the Trump administration’s political decision on net neutrality, Republicans have a choice — stand with the overwhelming number of Americans who support net neutrality or side with the corporate interests who only care about their bottom line. The day of reckoning in the Senate on net neutrality is coming, and Republicans are on notice.”

Gov tech leaders at the municipal level have certainly been outspoken in their opposition of Pai’s move to roll back the protections — both before and after the decision was made official — and a number of states have worked to pass their own workarounds aimed at preserving an open Internet.

What’s at question here is the FCC’s Open Internet Order, which was passed during the Obama Administration’s time in the White House to prohibit Internet service providers from blocking, slowing down or discriminating against online content. Opponents of the rollback argue that it would lead to higher prices for consumers, slower Internet traffic and even the blocking of certain websites.

San Antonio seeks to hire a smart city coordinator

San Antonio, Texas, is seeking to hire a full-time smart city coordinator, who, according to the job description posted by the city, would be “responsible for performing highly analytical work involving the use of smart city technology, including collaborating with city stakeholders, partners, IT staff, vendors and members of the community.”

The position would be housed within San Antonio’s Office of Innovation, and it’s one that’s becoming increasingly common in cites that are pushing to step up smart city efforts, including leaders in the field, such as Kansas City, Mo., and Seattle. This has already been a year of significant progress for San Antonio’s own work with smart city technologies.

In January, the mayor announced the creation of San Antonio’s seven-member Innovation and Technology Committee, which was tasked with working with the Office of Innovation to develop smart city initiatives. In March, the city held the Smart Cities Readiness Workshop to collect feedback and further discuss the development of a road map to guide its smart cities work.

San Francisco expands digital inclusion effort for public housing residents

San Francisco has announced plans to expand a digital equity pilot program that brings high-speed Internet, use of Google Wi-Fi devices and access to digital skills training to the residents of two public housing sites.

Dating back to January, this program has been in the pilot stage for San Francisco’s Robert B. Pitts and Hunters Point West public housing sites, which include 313 housing units selected for participation after a needs assessment was conducted last year by the city’s Office of Digital Equity. As part of the program, the sites have gotten free high-speed Internet access for all residents, onsite computer labs that offer digital literacy classes and free technology support and hardware repair services. Google has also donated 100 Google Wi-Fi devices to connect residents to the Internet.

The expansion calls for this program to include five additional public housing sites by the end of the year, according to reports by local media.

In a press release, San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell stressed the importance of digital inclusion work, noting that more than 100,000 San Franciscans still lack Internet access in their homes, and that he is “working every day to provide equitable solutions for communities and residents who have been left behind by the status quo.”

Philadelphia seeks user input on city forms

State and municipal government agencies across the country are starting to use human-centric design to reshape the services they provide to the public — and a big part of that includes making a serious and prolonged effort to collect feedback from the residents who use them.

To that end, Philadelphia is hosting something called the PHL Form Redesign event, within which public servants will hold workshops with residents aimed at making government forms easier to understand and complete. The event is slated for May 19 at the Innovation Lab in the Philadelphia Municipal Services building.

Forms that the city is seeking to redesign with an emphasis on accessibility include the Philadelphia language access grievance form, Tax Review Board appeals form, marketing grant application, installation permit for combustion engine, special events application and outdoor food establishment application.

Using human-centric design is proving to be a viable way to reduce the stress on constituents as well as the amount of time that staff must spend processing forms. In Michigan, for example, a studio that specializes in human-centric design helped the state reduce the size of one form by as much as 80 percent, taking it from more than 40 pages down to a spry 18.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.