by / October 1, 2001
Share and Share Alike
OMAHA, Neb. -- Officials in Omaha and Douglas County, Neb., decided it was silly for both jurisdictions to spend big bucks on separate IT systems. The two jurisdictions will instead share new financial, human resource and payroll applications as well as Internet procurement software.

"Its pretty much a 50-50 split between the city and the county," said Patrick Burke, purchasing agent of Omaha, adding that a third agency, the Public Building Commission, is also participating in the project.

The project has three phases, and officials hope to be finished by the end of June 2003, said Kathleen Hall, chief deputy clerk of the Office of the Douglas County Clerk/Comptroller.

Both Hall and Burke believe the project could be a model for other cities and counties as jurisdictions across the country search for ways to keep costs down and provide more integrated services to their residents.

"There are a lot of administrative services that could be merged if you were actually able to compare apples to apples," Hall said, noting that the planning process is helping the jurisdictions learn to speak the same language and compare similar business practices.

Hall noted that some of the systems currently in use are 20 years old, and those systems havent been updated since they were installed.

Setting New Standards
SANTA FE, N.M. -- New Mexicos Child Support Enforcement Division wanted its Child Support Web site to be different. The effort succeeded; the new site gives parents more control over their cases.

New Mexico parents can use the site to communicate electronically with Child Support Enforcement officials; deposit child-support payments directly into their bank accounts; monitor payment status and account balances; provide change-of-employer and new-address information; apply for services; review recent actions taken by the agency on their cases; authorize automatic withdrawals from their bank accounts; and provide information regarding the whereabouts of a non-custodial parent.

The site was built for the state using a component-based architecture, officials said, which allows it to work with the divisions existing legacy mainframe system.

Arkansas Surplus Online
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas joined a growing list of states that have turned to the Internet to sell surplus property.

The states Department of Finance and Administration rolled out the Arkansas online auction in mid July.

The Arkansas auction follows the same principles as eBay and other successful government auction sites in states such as Texas, Maryland, California, Oregon and Virginia. The system allows Arkansas residents to browse available state surplus, bid, and have items shipped to them.

Officials said the new system would eliminate hassles for potential buyers, who will no longer have to drive to a physical location to bid on surplus property. They hope the online auction will also save tax dollars by reducing expenses related to disposal of surplus items, reducing the cost of storage and cataloging and increasing efficiency.

The Marketing and Redistribution Division of the Office of State Procurement developed the auction site.

Oklahoma Takes A Hybrid Approach
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma signed a deal with NIC in late June, making it the 15th state to contract with the portal service provider. But while 12 of those states have struck self-funding deals with NIC, Oklahoma choose a different route, opting instead to sign a five-year contract worth approximately $1 million under whats being called a hybrid funding approach, said Christopher Neff, NICs marketing director.

Under the self-funding model, fees for certain transactions are collected and deposited into an account which then is tapped by NIC to pay for development of new Web services. But with the hybrid model, the state will pay for the infrastructure to be built, after which agencies will pay for interactive applications they want NIC to build out of their own budgets. It will be up to the agencies to decide how they pay for applications, said George Floyd, Oklahomas director of telecommunications.

Hybrid funding makes sense for state governments, Neff said, because its often better to spend money thats been allocated for IT purposes instead of having that money sit and possibly be reallocated before its spent.

"We have seen other governments, especially local governments, moving toward this hybrid-funding approach where there is a subsidy in order to get the infrastructure up and running, and then it will revert over to a self-funding or a transaction-based model," Neff said. "I think we will see more states and municipalities moving in the direction of hybrid funding."

"We felt that this was the way to go," Floyd said. "We think well grow business this way."

Battles Loom Over Cell Phone Fees
NEW YORK -- In what could be a harbinger of future 911 battles, five Democrats in New Yorks Assembly introduced a bill that would force the state to fork over substantial amounts of money to the city raised through a surcharge on every cell phone user in the state.

The surcharge helps support the state polices handling of emergency 911 calls.

Thirty-one counties and New York City run their own 911 response systems in the state, and the largest is New York City, said Stephen Sigmund, spokesman of the New York City Public Advocates Office. Under the bill, the state would have to refund 90 percent of the money that cell-phone-toting city residents pay in surcharges each year. The total dollars paid each year have increased yearly by approximately 30 percent since the state began collecting the surcharges, Sigmund said.

"Last year, the [states] total tax take was $43 million, half of which came from New York City cell-phone users," he said. "The original law, which went into effect in 1991, anticipated a return of about $2 million per year. Obviously, that was well before anybody could see the growth of cell phones. Now you have this substantial tax -- half of which is paid by city cell-phone users -- and theyre not getting any benefit out of it."

If the bill is passed in a form similar to its current version, New York City would get about $20 million back from the state.

Internet for All?
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union (EU) may extend universal service to include Internet access.

At a meeting of the EUs Telecommunications Council in late June, telecommunications ministers agreed to widen the scope of universal service to include dial-up access to the Internet.

"Where there is a regular phone line, there is the ability to access the Net using a modem," said Matt Peacock, a spokesman for America Online Europe.

This is one of the reasons AOL Europe has been pressing for flat-rate access to the Net in most Western European countries.

"Even with the best will in the world, its not possible to offer broadband access to all customers, so its important that users can access the Internet via dialup modem connections on a sensible, flat-rate package deal," Peacock said.

The agreement is the latest in a set of proposals being discussed by the EU for nearly 18 months. Ministers are looking for the proposals to be formally adopted by the end of the year. -- Newsbytes

Electrifying Internet
ESSEN, Germany -- RWE Powerline launched a commercial Internet service in the cities of Essen and Mulheim that works through standard AC electrical wall outlets. The company promises to launch its service in other areas of Germany later this year.

The company, a subsidiary of RWE, the German electricity firm, unveiled its PowerNet technology in March, when it announced a pilot in Essen that hooked 200 homes and a local school to the Internet over AC electrical connections.

The experience gained from that pilot has allowed the firm to launch what appears to be Germanys -- and possibly Europes -- first commercial implementation of the "Internet-over-mains" technology, as it is known in Europe.

Two levels of service are initially available to any home or business in the two cities. The basic service costs $25 U.S. a month for up to 250MBs of transferred data, while the second costs $50 U.S. a month for up to 2GBs of data.

Plans with higher data allowances costing up to $125 U.S. a month are planned.

"We plan to also launch the service in Cologne, Uberhausen and Lagenfeld later this year," said Andreas Preuss, a spokesman of RWE Powerline.

The companys PowerNet modem, a device that sits between the PC and the wall-outlet connection, can plug into just about any standard AC outlet and sells for $100 U.S. It is particularly useful for schools and businesses because its significantly cheaper than traditional network cabling. -- Newsbytes

Archive This
PARIS -- France is considering a law that would unleash Web crawlers to constantly scour the French Internet and collect online content for storage in the national archives.

Jean-Christophe Le Toquin, executive director of the French Internet Service Providers Association, said digital content is rapidly gaining in importance and becoming more a part of the heritage of France and other nations.

Noting the speed at which Web sites can be born and then die, he said it was important to frequently collect and store Web content.

"Already a lot of content from the first years of the Web is gone forever," he said.

The two main depositories for the material would likely be Frances National Library and the National Audiovisual Institute.
It is still not clear how often and to what extent French Web content will be collected and archived. Those details will have to be agreed on by French legislators.

Julien Masanes, conservator of the National Library, foresees a system where French Web crawlers will be constantly at work collecting a major portion of online content for the archives. The crawlers would make a distinction between Web sites that update often and those that remain generally static, and return more often to the dynamic Web sites. -- Newsbytes

Personality Test
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- An artificial personality being created by the Mindpixel Digital Mind Modeling Project and known as the Generic Artificial Consciousness (GAC) was introduced to the world of standardized testing this summer. The GAC is being created from millions of "mindpixels" -- binary statements of consensual facts such as "water is wet" -- being collected from millions of Internet users across the world.

The MMPI-2 was to be administered to the GAC at the end of August to determine how well it rates against humans, said Robert Epstein, editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. At press time, results of the test were not available.

"The scores that GAC gets will allow me to determine where it stands relative to human beings in general," he said. "In that sense, well find out how human GAC is. To my knowledge, no one has ever tried to [administer this test] to computers."

According to Mindpixel, the statements being collected are being validated through a review by other contributors to the GAC before being stored in the Mindpixel Corpus, which project organizers say is the largest database of validated human common sense ever attempted.

Epstein said GAC would be introduced to the questions on the MMPI before the test is administered so that GAC "gets experienced" with the questions.

"Over time, what GAC is learning [is] how thousands of people respond to these items," he said. "How that emerges, nobody knows."