This Week in Civic Tech presents a lineup of notable events in the space that connects citizens to government services. Topics cover latest startups, hackathons, open data initiatives and other influencers. Check back each week for updates.
“Get Ready for Super Fast Free Wi-Fi” — That’s the message on New York’s 3rd Avenue. The signage is affixed to four slim, 9.5-foot-tall kiosks that began beta testing the Big Apple’s first free Wi-Fi network this week. City officials have branded the kiosks as LinkNYC and intend to install more than 7,500 on a rolling basis. The highly anticipated project replaces a deteriorating payphone system and is expected to bridge the gap between low-income residents and Internet connectivity.
Each kiosk includes a charging place for devices, free calls within the U.S., a 55-inch HD Display for service announcements, a 911 call button, attached Android tablet and LinkNYC’s signature Wi-Fi, which the Verge reported has upload and download speeds of about 300 Mbps or faster. Users only have to login with an email and password for access to the entire LinkNYC system. Surprisingly, even with the structures’ fancy aluminum finishes and high-def displays, taxpayers will not be responsible for costs, according to the city. Instead, the consortium CityBridge has taken on that responsibility, promising to generate more than $500 million in outside advertising revenue during its 12-year franchise. Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs, a civic innovation company has invested in the project through Intersection, one of three companies in the CityBridge consortium — along with Qualcomm and CIVIQ Smartscapes.
The advocacy group CrowdMapIT (cMapIT) is proving impacts in civic innovation extend far beyond urban cities and even international borders. Directed by Oluseun Onigbinde, cMapIT’s lead managing partner — and a Knight Foundation International Innovation Fellow — cMapIT has launched a project to map and track drainage issues in Nigeria’s Lagos region.
During the rainy season, sanitation issues pose significant hardships on residents with backed up drainage spilling into homes and markets, and clogging roadways. With no adequate wastewater treatment facility and no consolidated government for the area’s 18 million people, there is a critical need for monitoring and infrastructure fixes. cMapIT hopes to ease some of these burdens by sending alerts to residents when and where backups occur. The app also provides real-time crowdsourced reporting, and as a complementary measure, the team has created another app: Called PolicyMapNG, the app tracks government public projects across Nigeria. Below is a sample of cMapIT's developing drainage app.
With plans for a major website overhaul, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has decided to enable easier citizen access to data on company filings in a partnership with Accenture Federal Services. The SEC awarded a five-year, $17.9 million contract earlier this month, according to a press release, and Accenture estimates the data — to be searchable on mobile devices — will encapsulate the agency’s more than 21 million disclosure documents.
At present, SEC.gov is a well trafficked site by investors probing for market insights. The agency’s Electronic Data Gathering and Retrieval (EDGAR) system already provides access to records but officials say results will be more navigable, social and aesthetically modern, and will leverage open data formats.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mistakenly listed Alphabet (previously Google) as a major investor in the project, when you in actuality, Alphabet is a minor stakeholder through Sidewalk Labs' Intersection company.
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.