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What’s New in Civic Tech: Local Gov Leaders Criticize FCC’s Small Cell Order

Plus, Results for America releases new case studies about local government successes; Cook County, Ill., approves contract for new election equipment; federal lawmakers pass act to modernize grant reporting with open data; and New York state wins national procurement award.

by / September 27, 2018

The Federal Communications Commission has limited local government ability to regulate the deployment of 5G cell installation, sparking a wave of opposition from municipal government stakeholders across the country.

In a vote down party lines, the Republican-controlled FCC elected to institute new rules that it says are aimed at allowing the telecommunications companies to set up small cell wireless networks faster. The ruling has two parts: the first limits the fees that state and local governments can charge providers in relation to this, and the second requires those governments to approve or deny deployment of small cell wireless within 90 days. That window shrinks to 60 days if it involves being added to an existing facility.

Local government stakeholders blasted the decision, with those doing so ranging from the mayors of individual cities and mayoral advocacy groups to tech and innovation executives in major local governments. New York City CIO Samir Saini lambasted the FCC’s order in a medium post before it was made official.

Saini described the decision as a move “to dismantle this balanced system, handing taxpayer-owned assets over to multibillion-dollar telecommunications companies, and encouraging them to run wild on our public rights-of-way.” He questioned whether it would really improve the efficiency of deployment, while also noting that it would lead to big wireless companies focusing their tech deployment efforts “where the money is,” including rich commercial districts and dense residential areas only in urban cores.

“They will not be racing to serve traditionally underserved areas at affordable rates — be they rural or urban — where the prospect of profit doesn’t look as good,” Saini wrote.

Saini was far from alone in his criticisms. In a statement on Twitter, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo echoed some of Saini’s sentiments.

“The new FCC rules undermine the ability of local communities to negotiate fair, market-based broadband deployment agreements that benefit all residents,” Liccardo wrote.

The National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have all criticized the process as potentially damaging to cities and to their residents’ abilities to get equitable access to new technology.

Results for America Releases New Case Studies About Local Government Successes

Results for America, a nonprofit group promoting the use of evidence and data in solving major challenges, has released a pair of new case studies detailing local government success stories.

The two local governments in question are Louisville, Ky., and Montgomery County, Md. The case studies, which are now available on Results for America’s website, show local governments that have done very different things through a similar, data- and evidence-based management strategy.

Health and human services officials in Montgomery County teamed up with fire and rescue leaders to share data across agencies, also partnering with local hospitals as they provided home visits to the area’s most frequent callers. This effort resulted in a more than 50 percent reduction in total 911 calls from the residents they engaged.

Louisville, meanwhile, saw city officials working to make it easier for residents there to apply for its Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. They did this by adding a 24-hour phone or online scheduling option, and by providing laptops and scanners to public servants so that they could process applications in less time. In the end, more than 75 percent of applicants reported having a better application experience, and the city ultimately distributed 100 percent of funds allocated for the program.

Other recent case studies from the group detail work done in Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

Cook County, Ill., Approves Contract for New Election Equipment

Cook County, Ill., which is home to the city of Chicago, has approved a contract for new election equipment and support.

Cook County Clerk David Orr recently released a statement about the approval, which was granted by the Cook County Board of Commissioners. This contract taps Dominion Voting Systems as a vendor. In his statement about the decision, Orr notes that his office has worked for more than two years to specifically ensure that the voters who live in suburban Cook County have a secure election system.

Cybersecurity threats to U.S. elections have been a cause of concern for local and county governments across the country since the 2016 presidential election, after which interference on the part of Russian hackers became a heated topic of discussion.

Suburban Cook County cities are home to more than 1.5 million registered voters.

Federal Lawmakers Advance Act to Modernize Grant Reporting with Open Data

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have both advanced the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act, which advocates say will modernize the way that nearly $700 billion in federal grant funds are tracked and reported using open data.

The House of Representatives passed the GREAT Act, while the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously reported the legislative proposal with a voice vote. Advocacy groups, including the Data Coalition, praised the advance of the legislation. The next step is for the Senate to vote on whether it too will pass the legislation.

New York State Wins National Procurement Award

The New York State Office of General Services has received a 2018 Achievement of Excellence in Procurement Award from the National Procurement Institute, the organization announced in a press release.

This national award is given to tech organizations that display “innovation, professionalism, e-procurement, productivity and leadership in procurement,” according to the release. It is given specifically to public and nonprofit organizations.

Procurement in the public sector is notoriously sticky business, with budgetary concerns, regulations and wide-scale commitments to legacy systems often complicating efforts, especially as it pertains to procuring new technologies. 

This award, the press release also notes, is given out based on standardized criteria that takes into account professional development, customer service, vendor training, and other policies aimed at driving value for taxpayer money. This is the second consecutive year that the New York State Office of General Services has received this recognition.

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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