Technology innovations devoted to government business are peppered throughout Boston, largely due to the technology-focused agenda of Mayor Thomas Menino.
Menino's recent push for a citywide Wi-Fi network established a clear distinction from most metropolitan networks by aiming for the city to fund and own the network. Large cities typically find a vendor to build and operate a Wi-Fi network on the vendor's own dime. In exchange, the vendor gets to mount the network's antennas on the city's streetlights and sell service subscriptions to citizens. In this scenario, a municipality boasts a citywide Wi-Fi network without doing any of the legwork. But it also doesn't control the network, which could potentially restrict the city's ability to ensure the network meets all of the city's needs.
The Boston plan is to raise anywhere from $16 million to $20 million from local businesses and foundations through a nonprofit organization partnered with the city.
Menino argues that nonprofit ownership would free the city to implement any programs it desired for closing the digital divide, as well as reaching the potential new businesses the network might attract. The nonprofit organization will lease bandwidth on the network to Internet service providers to recover the costs of building it.
In July 2006, Menino deployed 50 solar-powered trash compacters throughout the city to reduce litter. The boxy, green machines hold roughly 150 gallons of trash and need emptying only once or twice a day. City workers often emptied traditional trash containers more than 15 times a day. Sensors inside the solar receptacles detect when compaction is necessary and activate the machine's motor.
In 2005, Menino deployed GPS technology in all of Boston's snowplows to more quickly get the equipment to neighborhoods in need.
Bostonians now use digital parking meters instead of traditional coin meters.
Menino is currently developing a campaign to update computers throughout the Boston public school system.
Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.