Illinois City Cuts Cables

ROLLING MEADOWS, Ill. - City officials here planned to go live in July with a wireless metropolitan area network connecting approximately 15 municipal buildings at T1 speeds.

The Chicago suburb worked with 3Com to create the Rolling Meadows Metropolitan Area Network (RMMAN), and the company donated upwards of $1 million in equipment and services to the city to implement the project.

As part of the undertaking, the city's Web site was transformed into a portal representing the various segments of local government. City residents can use the portal to sign-up for free e-mail accounts; obtain information on public services and park programs; download city forms such as building permits, vehicle registration and animal licenses; and more.

"We wanted to see if we could do something that would differentiate us from our competitive base, which is other municipalities," said Thomas Menzel, mayor of Rolling Meadows.

The next phase of the portal, which officials expect to launch by the end of this year, includes electronic transactions with the various governmental organizations that are part of the metropolitan area network.

City officials met with elementary and secondary schools, park districts and libraries - separate entities from the city - to educate them on the benefits of becoming part of the RMMAN, Menzel said.

"We wanted to have a unity, a collaboration that we had not had before to get us all on the same superhighway so we could all grow together, not duplicate costs and activities," he said. "It wasn't easy to put this together. It's a constant internal educational process, but it's like the train getting out of the station - once the train gets out of the station, everybody wants to be on it because they see the value there. We had no ability to say, "You're going to be a part of this." It was our selling internally on the validity of the concept."

A not-for-profit, public/private organization - also known as RMMAN - was created to manage the project. Eswoosh, a local technology consulting and development company, served as the city's liaison with 3Com on the project, and is part of the RMMAN governing board. That board also includes technology leaders from local school districts, and officials from the city, libraries, the park district and the local chamber of commerce.

The city covers approximately three miles and all buildings that are part of the wireless network will be outfitted with their own wireless antenna, said Michael Broccolino, president of Eswoosh. Two large towers at the north and south ends of the city will help strengthen the signal, he said, adding that the network will use the 802.11b wireless standard.

"The entities had collectively looked into fiber optics, but, at that time, the cost was prohibitive," he said.

Emergency Text Messaging

BIRMINGHAM, England - The West Midlands Police Department launched England's first mobile phone text messaging service in July to help deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired citizens contact the police in an emergency.

The new service follows a survey carried out with the Birmingham Institute of the Deaf (BID), which showed 98 percent of hearing impaired people use SMS text messaging, and 85 percent would like to use the service to contact the police.

Max Corney, IT communications manager of the West Midlands Police Department, said the existing communication methods were clearly unsuitable for the deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech impaired, who often encounter obstacles when trying to contact the police or other emergency services.

"We hope that by offering text messaging we can provide a quality service to a large group of people who, in the past, have had real difficulty in making contact with their local police," Corney said.