November 30, 2000 By Steve Towns
"We're trying to get customers to go to this way of doing business," said Clark. "We think that it's a good investment because we see that, in the future, there are going to be big benefits, not only in savings for government, but in convenience for citizens."
The same reasoning underlies the DMV's decision to absorb the cost of credit card fees charged by financial institutions when citizens use plastic to pay for online transactions. According to Clark, the fees amount to about two percent of the transaction amount, or roughly 40 cents for a driver's license renewal and 76 cents for a one-year vehicle renewal.
Upson said saddling online transactions with additional fees sends "exactly the wrong message" to potential users, particularly the technology companies that power a good deal of the state's economy. "We're trying to build the best business environment for tech companies. What do you think they pay taxes for? So now they're going to pay a fee to pay taxes more easily?" he said. "We say, 'Come to Virginia and we'll make it a lot easier for you.'"
Upson said the commonwealth adheres to a policy of treating all service delivery mediums equally. That philosophy discourages extra fees for online transactions, and it frowns on such things as privacy regulations that apply to the Web, but not other delivery channels, he said.
The DMV also spearheads Virginia's attempt to blur the boundary between state and local government. In a groundbreaking move, the agency intends to link its new network of public kiosks with county government kiosks already operating in northern Virginia.
The DMV is readying an initial release of 35 Web-based kiosks that will offer 24-hour access to license renewals, vehicle registrations, address changes and other common transactions. The agency is working with Fairfax County, which is converting its existing kiosk network to a Web-based architecture, to establish common standards that will allow the jurisdictions to deliver services through each other's machines.
Fairfax County CIO David Molchany said establishing this type of intergovernmental cooperation ranks among the most pressing issues facing local jurisdictions. Molchany, a member of Virginia's Council on Technology Services, credits monthly COTS meetings with fostering a new era of collaboration among state and local agencies.
"I think that we are definitely getting there through COTS," he said. "One of the best things COTS has done is brought people together from state government, local government and education so we can actually know each other. We can actually start to work together and form relationships.
"It's really another digital divide, and you need to cross that divide by getting people to work together," he added.
Targeting a more conventional divide, Virginia has fashioned one of the nation's most comprehensive plans to spread the benefits of a technology-driven economy to rural communities. A concentration of IT companies in northern Virginia allows the state to bill itself as "home of the Internet." But a number of the commonwealth's rural communities still depend on declining industries such as tobacco farming and textiles.
Virginia responded to the issue by creating the Digital Opportunities Program, an extensive attempt to address digital-divide issues on a coordinated, statewide basis. Among other things, the program established Virginia's Digital Opportunities Task Force, a public/private organization charged with ensuring that citizens have access to computer technology and the Internet, marshalling digital-divide resources and encouraging community-based initiatives.
Jim Clinton, executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, a group that tracks economic development in the South, said Virginia has been quick to address Digital Age inequities. "I think that they took it seriously early," he said. "Certainly, in terms of aggressively seeing both the
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