Cities Feel the Pinch
WASHINGTON, D.C. - One in three American cities reported their local economy, municipal revenues and public confidence hit the doldrums since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, while public-safety spending was up.
The results are part of a survey of 401 cities conducted by the National League of Cities (NLC) in early October.
In cities and towns of all sizes, 41 percent said their economies had weakened; 31 percent said municipal revenues had decreased; 28 percent said public confidence is down; and 31 percent said public-safety spending increased.
In cities with populations of 100,000 or more, 59 percent said their economies had weakened; 50 percent said municipal revenues had decreased; 36 percent said public confidence is down; and 54 percent said public-safety spending increased.
Among all cities, 29 percent said they had lost public-safety personnel to the National Guard or reserves.
To help defray increased costs of public safety, 22 percent of all cities and 40 percent of larger cities say they will ask for assistance from federal or state governments.
Among all cities, only 14 percent said they feel their cities are at high or moderate risk for terrorism, but more said their cities face the risk of layoffs and unemployment (37 percent) and business shutdowns (31 percent). Among larger cities, 44 percent said they felt they are at risk for terrorism, but 59 percent said they are at risk for both unemployment and business shutdowns.
In addition to updating emergency response plans, most cities reported that they have begun or plan to increase security by improving cooperation and coordination among different government bodies as well as within governments. Among larger cities, 83 percent said they will increase interdepartmental cooperation; 79 percent said they will increase intergovernmental cooperation; and 74 percent plan to improve coordination with public health and medical facilities. -National League of Cities
U.S. Gets High Score
LONDON - The World Markets Research Centre (WMRC) released the first "Global E-Government Survey" in late October to attempt to gauge which countries make the best use of electronic government .
According to the survey, the United States took top honors, with a score of 52.7. The WMRC said it created a zero- to 100-point e-government index and applied it to each nation's Web sites based on the availability of contact information, publications, databases, portals and number of online services.
The WMRC said the 52.7 score means every U.S. Web site analyzed had slightly more than half the features important for information availability, citizen access, portal access and service delivery.
The researchers analyzed 2,288 government Web sites in 196 nations, but found that, worldwide, e-government is falling short of its true potential. Some highlights of the survey include:
- Only 6 percent of the Web sites analyzed have links to a government portal.
- Worldwide, only 2 percent of government Web sites have some form of disability access.
- Six percent provide users with visible privacy policies.
- Only 33 percent of government Web sites are searchable, which limits the ability of ordinary citizens to find relevant information quickly.
- Of all the sites surveyed, only 8 percent offered services that are fully executable online.
The study's authors noted that e-government is a growing and relatively new phenomenon, which explains why service offerings are still limited. Overall, the study said, governments are obviously aware of the benefits of e-government and are taking steps to use the Internet to reach out to citizens.
"One of the weaknesses of many national Web sites has been their inconsistency in terms of design features," the study said. "Government agencies guard their autonomy very carefully, and it has taken a while to get agencies to work together to make the tasks of citizens easier to undertake."
Testing Free Speech
HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments in a case in October that
could set a new precedent for online free speech.
The court heard the case of a former middle school student who developed a personal Web site in 1998 that made derogatory statements about a math teacher and a principal in his school, including solicitations to raise money for a hit man to kill the teacher.
The student was permanently expelled from the school system, and a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld the school district's decision in a split ruling in July 2000.
The case began when the student, whose identity is known only as "J.S.," created a Web site called "Teacher Sux" that contained derogatory statements about Kathleen Fulmer, a math teacher in the Bethlehem School District's Nitschmann Middle School, and the school's principal, Thomas Kartsotis.
The site contained images of Fulmer's head morphing into an image of Adolf Hitler, as well as images depicting her decapitation. It also solicited donations of $20 per viewer to help pay for a hit man to assassinate Fulmer.
When the principal was notified about the Web site, he notified police and the FBI.
Fulmer, according to media reports, also won a $500,000 judgment against J.S. for mental suffering she endured as a result of the statements about her.
Speaking for the majority opinion of the Commonwealth Court in 2000, Senior Judge Jess Jiuliante said the Web site disrupted the educational process and constituted a valid threat.
Judge Rochelle Friedman, in a dissent, noted that the statements, however violent, came from a child who plainly had no intention to carry out his fantasies beyond his Web site.
Both Jiuliante and Friedman noted that J.S. pulled the Web site when informed that the school district was taking note.
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court spokesman said there is no deadline on when the court must rule on the case. - Newsbytes
Computer Access Improves, but Divide Remains
WASHINGTON, D.C. - American children had nearly ubiquitous access to computers at school last year, but a recent U.S. Census Bureau report suggests that kids from the country's poorest families are still much less likely to have a PC at home.
August 2000 figures, released by the Census Bureau in September, showed that 54 million U.S. households contained at least one computer. Among households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more, nearly 90 percent reported having at least one computer. For households with incomes below $25,000, that figure fell to just 30 percent.
But the Census Bureau said that 90 percent of all U.S. children had computer access last year, as technology in schools did much to level the playing field. The report, "Home Computers and Internet Use in the United States," said access to computers at school was nearly equal across income, race and ethnic categories.
The report also found that 77 percent of white non-Hispanic children and 72 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander children lived in households with computers. For African American children, however, that number was 43 percent and for Hispanic children it was 37 percent.
Of the 54 million households with computers, 44 million had at least one family member using the Internet at home, according to the report. A similar survey conducted in 1997 found that less than half of households with PCs were connected to the Internet. - Newsbytes
Help Desks Chart New Course
AURORA, Colo. - Governments' evolving use of computers and software is taking help desks to new places.
Gone are the days of fixing what's broken, said Rick Mapes, director of the city's Client Services Division.
"Users are becoming sophisticated to the point that they know how to get their own help on canned applications," Mapes said. "Where I see our need to step up and provide continuing value is to become integrated into the various business practices in the organization."
He is encouraging his staff
to attend end-user training sessions on the city's core business applications that have either been built for the city or customized for the city's needs, including Aurora's police-records system, the city's 911 system, mobile-data systems and permitting applications.
"These areas are where my staff needs to step up and no longer just be a PC-fix-it guy, but really become a person who understands the business process and who can bring value to the user," Mapes said.
Help desks need to make the transition to becoming business partners to demonstrate that they bring value to other city departments and city employees, he said.
Mapes said he's formed a Service and Support Quality Council in the Denver metro area as a forum for public agencies to collaborate and share information on what they've done to make things work.
"We've got about 18 local government agencies represented, and it's a great way to exchange information," he said.
Help desks that take this approach are doing more than serving internal customers better; they're also giving city administrators a reason not to outsource support jobs.
"It's going to be easier for organizations to view tech services as a target for outsourcing unless we can demonstrate that we bring value to the organization by supporting the proprietary stuff the organization uses," Mapes said.
European School Net Use Growing
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Internet usage in European schools is growing, but there are still wide differences between countries, according to a report just published by the European Union.
The "Eurobarometer" report was conducted in preparation for the European Union's electronic Europe Action Plan 2002, which European Commissioner Erkki Liikanen announced at a Stockholm conference Thursday.
The study found that new technologies have helped schools move online in all European countries over the last few years, with teachers becoming increasingly knowledgeable about the Internet.
The European Union says 90 percent of schools in its member countries are now hooked up to the Internet and 80 percent of pupils have regular access to the Net.
The research also found that around 50 percent of PCs used to access the Internet at Europe's schools were less than three years old.
Despite the high penetration levels, broadband access remains limited at most schools, the report found.
While 33 percent of Europe's schools have dial-up modem access to the Net, only six percent have cable modem access, and just five percent access the Internet using DSL.
Finland appears to be the best place to send kids to school for Internet access - researchers found there are three pupils per Internet PC on average in the country. In Luxemburg, the next best, there are five pupils per PC in schools.
At the other end of the table were Greece and Portugal with, respectively, 57 and 54 pupils per PC.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Liikanen, the EC's Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, said that the development of the Internet in schools remains a priority for all member states.
A summary of the report, entitled "eEurope 2002 Benchmarking: European Youth into the Digital Age," has been posted to the European Union Web site . - Newsbytes
TOKYO - Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., the Japanese electronics company known around the world for its Panasonic-brand products, said it will begin selling a Web-based home medical system next year.
The Panasonic system will link doctor to patient via the Internet, measure vital signs and facilitate e-mail communication.
The system, aimed at allowing for more home care and remote monitoring, combines a patient terminal, network server and software for the doctor.
The three components are all linked via the Net. The patient's vital signs - measured by traditional devices like a thermometer, stethoscope and sensors - can be sent through the server to the doctor and his or her staff. Any exceptional vital sign data prompts the network server to notify the doctor immediately.
The patient accesses his or her terminal via an interactive touch screen that provides graphical and voice/picture guidance. The terminal prompts the patient to take vital sign measurements.
The system will debut in Japan on Feb. 1, 2002. - Newsbytes