take it from one, you really have to allow equal time for the other."

Kansas Sherrer also has worries about the potential legal ramifications of online advertising, especially regarding implied endorsements and competitive issues.

"If Im the Happy Dale Nursing Home and Im all over the Department of Aging Web site, is there an implied endorsement, even though in small letters at the bottom there may be language to the contrary?" wondered Sherrer. "If Im an insurance company that wants on the Department of Revenues Web site that pertains to information about drivers licenses -- who gets on that site? The big company that outbids the small company? The out-of-state [company] that paid a bigger fee than the Kansas company that wanted on the Web site?"

Getting the Green Light

Although state and local officials have trepidations about accepting advertising on municipal Web sites, they arent letting those apprehensions stop them.

San Franciscos Lowery said the city would be running a pilot program testing online advertising very soon, especially after seeing a presentation by govAds.

"It was clear to us that [the company] had thought through the issues, had talked to government, understood balancing sponsorships and advertising with all the problems that could create, and understood the legal implications and the legal issues," she said. "They showed us samples of what theyre doing in Hawaii, and they were tasteful. It wasnt ... banner ads and click-throughs all over the screen. They serve up the advertising. They make the decisions in terms of not allowing alcohol, tobacco or things like that. It really isnt government getting into any First Amendment problems."

Contra Costa Countys Steinbrecher is surveying county residents to find out what they think about online advertising and has run across a variety of opinions. Residents have told him they think its very progressive of the county to seek alternative funding for e-gov services, but have also expressed worries about who gets to advertise.

"More people have a tendency to look at this whole issue of freedom of advertising -- what gets advertised, content and all those things -- on a very personal level," said Steinbrecher. "Thats whats going to make this such a tricky issue.

"A lot of us as CIOs are skeptical of this right now," he continued. "Quite frankly, my CEO, who is a very progressive businessperson, understands the economics of it, but I think hes got that same skepticism. Because we know as soon as we start trying this, were probably going to get burned. Were cruising into new territory here in the dark with a bag over our head. Weve been talking about this for more than 18 months, and were going to do it."

Steve Towns, features editor, contributed to this story.

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.