July 31, 2006 By Tod Newcombe
A Partnership Guy
The governor's initiative -- officially named the Wireless Communities Georgia Program -- has begun accepting applications from city and county governments statewide. Funding recipients must provide a minimum of 25 percent of a project's total cost. Priority will be given to networks operated by a private-sector company.
Perdue believes marketplace involvement will make the wireless venture affordable. "Once people see the benefit of wireless, there will be more demand, more subscribers and less cost. We're not trying to come in and build an exclusively public system," he said. "We think there's more expertise in the private sector to run the operation and management of these systems."
But Perdue emphasizes the need for government participation. "I'm a big partnership guy. I don't want the state to be the exclusive partner in this. I want everyone to have some skin in the game. That's why we chose this relationship involving the state, local governments and the private sector. But I do think it's the role of government to provide opportunities. Maybe where a private-sector provider cannot initially see the numbers that would encourage them to invest, participation of state and local government will get them over the hump and make the investment."
The government participation Perdue refers to is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the entire project. Local and state agencies are expected to be anchor tenants of the wireless network, giving the wireless providers a large and active base of users right from the start.
And having government agencies as early tenants in such a service isn't just to sweeten the pot for wireless providers. Perdue clearly sees the benefits and advantages to online, mobile government. He cited the impact of wireless technology on law enforcement, parole, child welfare and social services, for example. Whether government workers are in the field or telecommuting to avoid wasted hours in congestion, wireless and broadband access can have a huge impact on productivity.
"It's just a much more efficient way of doing business," he said, adding that government managers will need to supervise these workers differently.
"The process of managing people from a performance standard rather than from how long they sit in a chair in front of a desk will tell the tale of whether this is a success in a 21st-century economy. Wireless connectivity will begin to help us judge that. If we employ the tools that help people to be productive where they are, where their job requires them to be, rather than back in the office, filling out reports, it will make sense."
E-government has come a long way in Georgia. For five years, Georgia has ranked in the top 20, according the Center for Digital Government's annual Digital State Survey. Perdue believes the state has matured to the point where it has wrung most of the productivity out of electronic commerce. "The potential for the things we see we can do will grow as we become comfortable with information sharing," he said. "First we have to get a handle on privacy and security protocols."
Closing the Urban-Rural Gap
In addition to $4 million for wireless connectivity, Georgia is providing $5 million to rural communities seeking to establish broadband networks of any kind. That funding is managed by the OneGeorgia Authority, which uses the state's tobacco settlement money to assist the most economically challenged areas. Perdue deplores the urban-rural divide, but acknowledges
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