Charting New Territory

Emerging digital communities mark a new era of service delivery in government.

On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered what is widely regarded as one of the greatest speeches in history: the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln's was a time of great upheaval, thunderous change and the beginning of the modern age. The Industrial Revolution was growing -- feasting on steel and steaming across the country on mighty locomotives. Inventions such as the telegraph -- and the telephone a few years later -- were suddenly bringing people information in hours instead of weeks or months.

Machinery and factories allowed the entrepreneur, the inventor and the laborer to come together and create a host of industries. Employees could find steady work and good wages. And should he so desire, for the first time in history, a man could travel thousands of miles in mere days thanks to the greatest engineering feat of the 19th century: the First Transcontinental Railroad. Only months prior to Lincoln's speech, on January 8, the first tracks were laid in Sacramento, Calif., and in Omaha, Neb. -- finally meeting on May 10, 1869 in Promontory Summit, Utah. Thus was born an age of interconnectivity the likes of which the world had never known.

On the cold, bitter day Lincoln gave his address, he closed his celebrated oration with a famous line that was both an expression of hope and a challenge to America: "that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

How delighted then would Lincoln be to know that only a handful of generations later, America would be poised to take another great leap toward the government he envisioned. Here, at the dawn of the 21st century, the frenetic advance of technology is allowing government to deliver services to the citizenry at levels never before imagined -- giving rise to the age of digital communities.

But not all is well. America no longer has the pole position in the technology race. Despite a number of commendable efforts under way, the U.S. is falling farther behind in terms of broadband availability and mobile technology -- the infrastructure backbone of the digital community. Other nations are surpassing the U.S. by aggressively advancing this mobile, high-speed technology infrastructure.

The U.S. risks losing the competitive technological edge it has owned for 150 years. However, courageous and visionary public officials, who will dare to change the plodding, disconnected IT infrastructure of the past, can once again propel the U.S. into the lead by ensuring technology access to citizens and transforming government into an environment of agile and effective service delivery -- truly the government of the people, by the people and for the people that Lincoln envisioned those many years ago.

Guts and Glory

The launch of the Digital Communities Initiative is an important milestone as government seeks to transform itself into a highly efficient service delivery entity. But what is a digital community and how does it better citizens' lives and government's ability to serve?

A digital community deploys advanced technologies that enhance the quality of life for residents and improve government services. It is a community built on strong leadership and vision. It is a community that is not reliant on technology but instead is enabled by it. A digital community represents the complete transformation of government from the age of siloed, agency-specific infrastructure into an integrated IT framework that delivers any number of innovative, e-government services.

The rise of digital communities begins with municipal government. Mayors, city councils and government CIOs must drive the transformation. Public/private partnerships play a vital role in delivering broadband access to last-mile communities. And communities that embrace Wi-Fi and WiMAX technology will greatly enhance their ability