By Shane Peterson | News Editor

So far, only a few jurisdictions have accepted advertisements on their Web sites, but more will follow. Is the risk worth the reward?

When you think iceberg, you dont think Honolulu. But Hawaiis capital is the tip of what could become a very large iceberg, indeed.

In June, the city tacked a banner ad for the Bank of Hawaii onto the Honolulu Web site, becoming one of the first jurisdictions to accept advertising on a government Web site.

Some public officials take a dim view of this emerging practice, but e-gov companies, of course, think its the best thing since, well, e-gov companies.

CIO Courtney Harrington said Honolulu didnt set out to be a pioneer. The city/ county jurisdiction simply needed a way to pay for adding e-commerce functions to its Web site.

"We didnt stop and say, Nobody has ever done this before; maybe we shouldnt do it. We said, Heres a revenue stream. The fact is that the only way we can bring electronic services to [citizens] is to allow a small amount of advertising," said Harrington.

An Avalanche of Ads?

According to city officials, Salt Lake City, Utah, has released an RFP to overhaul its Web site. Part of that RFP contains a provision to accept online advertising as a funding mechanism for the overhaul.

Massachusetts Com-PASS Web page contains one banner ad, but the advertising space is specifically targeted to vendors who sell to the state and state agencies. The states Central Reprographics and the Office of Vehicle Management run ads on the Com-PASS Web page.

Iowa, Florida and Ohio want to post ads, and Iowa is very close to releasing an RFP to start the process.

Kansas is a bit more leery and has created a subcommittee to study the issue. Lisa Counts, director of marketing of the Information Network of Kansas, is the chair of the subcommittee examining the issue.

"Were trying to determine best practices, what hurdles other states are encountering and, generally, whats going on out there," said Counts. "Were trying to come to some sort of conclusion for our state agencies. Some of the agencies are big, but some are very small and dont have legal counsel or resources like that. Theyre looking for some guidance from the state."

While attempting to reach a consensus on just how large a role the state should play in crafting policy addressing online advertising, the committee is also debating issues, such as whether advertisements should appear on only the states Web site or on individual state agency Web sites.

In addition, Kansas is looking at where the revenue would go: If the states Department of Commerce and Housing decides to accept advertising, would that revenue go to the department or back to the state?

And what about large, out-of-state corporations advertising on the states Web site? "Thats a big issue," said Counts. "The Department of Commerce and Housing has told us, Its our job to promote [in-state companies], and we want to bring business to Kansas. If we publicize Microsoft, does that compete with our local companies?"

Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, who also serves as the states secretary of commerce, has concerns about the state accepting advertising on its Web site.

"Frankly, I dont think we need the revenue that badly," he said. "I believe there are a lot of pitfalls and, if we do something, I want it to be well thought-out. Its an issue that deserves a lot of attention, and this is one area where I dont want to be first or second or third."

Funding Blues

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.