What’s New in Civic Tech: San Jose, Calif., Joins FirstNet

Plus, a look at state support for net neutrality; Boston overhauls its My Neighborhood Resources tool; Deloitte releases its Government Trends 2020 report; 18F publishes inclusive language guidelines; and more.

by / June 27, 2019
Flickr/FirstNet

San Jose, Calif., recently became the first city in the United States to deploy FirstNet to all of its public safety and emergency response personnel.

FirstNet is a national broadband public safety network that has been many years in the making. It is an effort to centralize and modernize emergency response communications across the country. All 50 states are part of it, as is Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. San Jose has not only joined the network, it has extended it to both its public safety and emergency personnel, as well as some agencies that might be seen as safety or emergency adjacent, such as environmental services and the city’s airport.

The full list of FirstNet-participating agencies in San Jose includes the police department, the fire department, the office of emergency management, the office of the city manager, environmental services, parks, the airport, the office of civic innovation, public works and transportation.

In a press release this week, city officials explained they have added so many agencies to FirstNet's platform because a broad swatch of city departments are often called upon to help in an emergency. Officials also praised FirstNet in general, noting that the platform “gives first responders the reliable, unthrottled connectivity they need to share critical information, communicate and coordinate during day-to-day situations, large events and emergencies.” FirstNet's expanded role in San Jose has been made possible by an ongoing public-private partnership between the city and AT&T, which is building and running the national emergency network.

Which States Support Net Neutrality?

A new report has taken a closer look at which states support net neutrality, ranking them based on factors such as legislation, senator support at the federal level, attorney general support, town support and mayoral support.

Net neutrality was a set of protections for access to content on the Internet. Put in place by the FCC during the Obama administration, net neutrality basically ensured that users and businesses all had equitable and open access to online content, barring Internet service providers from favoring certain websites or applications in terms of speed. Those protections were repealed in late 2017 by an FCC that now had a Republican majority. 

In the wake of the repeal, moves were made at the state level to keep the Internet open and equitable. This new report looks at the strongest net neutrality moves based on the criteria described above. The report was conducted by Comparitech, a for-profit consumer protection organization. 

Comparitech found that, based on its criteria, Massachusetts was the strongest state supporter of net neutrality protections, followed by New Jersey, New York, California and Illinois. By comparison, the bottom five states in terms of net neutrality support were Arkansas, Wyoming, Louisiana, Utah and South Dakota. 

The other key finding was that support for net neutrality is an issue that seems to fall pretty clearly along party lines. This was reflected in the FCC vote to repeal it as well, with the three Republican commissioners voting for repeal and the two Democrats voting against. The Comparitech report found that the 17 states that support net neutrality the strongest all voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. 

Boston Overhauls Its My Neighborhood Resources Tool

Boston has overhauled its My Neighborhood Resources tool, which can be used by residents to find useful information based on their addresses.

To update the tool, Boston conducted research about the app and its users, in order to build something that was both effective and easy to understand. Once city technologists decided where they wanted to go, the next step was to team with General Assembly Boston — a local tech organization — to help them get there. General Assembly aided the project via a user experience cohort as well as prototype designs for the new and improved application. 

The project has had its challenges. My Neighborhood Resources was built using legacy technology. Three years ago, Boston moved its website — cityofboston.gov — to a new and far more user-friendly platform, Boston.gov. Work has continued to bring over all the old legacy systems from the first site, including My Neighborhood Resources, which had suffered from slow loading times, incomplete search results and inconsistent design schemes. 

Interested parties can read more about the development process here. In short, with user-centered design, testing and agile development, Boston is working to create a new My Neighborhood Resources tool that will better serve its residents, redeveloped and tested with the user experience in mind. 

Deloitte Releases Government Trends 2020 Report

Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights (DCGI) has released a report, Government Trends 2020, which paints a picture of the future of government technology by looking at the lessons that the DCGI has learned during its three years of existence.

In the report, Deloitte highlights the nine most influential trends the center has seen since 2016. There’s quite a bit in the report, with topics on AI and augmented government; the rise of the citizen experience; and how government can use data, the cloud and behavioral sciences to innovate in its space.

The report is available online. Those interested in abbreviated summaries of its findings can find them on the report’s home page, where there are articles related to a wide range of topics on digital government. 

Check Out 18F’s Inclusive Language Style Guide

The federal government tech consultancy 18F has published an inclusive language style guide that ranks as a great primer on how to write accessible copy for constituents.

“The words we use can make the difference between forging positive connections or creating distance in our personal and professional lives. Particularly in writing, impact is more important than intent,” 18F explains in the introduction. “As we build government services, we want to ensure they are accessible and welcoming to everyone who needs to use them. Inclusive language helps us to be more accurate and build trust with our users.”

The style guide tackles the proper and most respectful way to write about a wide range of topics, including age, disability, gender, nationality and more. The guide also cites its source, attributing its own guidelines to those of the non-governmental Conscious Style Guide.

This guide is, of course, the work of the federal government. But state and local government agencies can apply the same lessons when it comes to writing inclusive language for their digital platforms. 

Minnesota Launches User-Centered Revenue Website

Technologists have recently collaborated with the Minnesota Department of Revenue to create a new user-centered revenue website. The site, which launched earlier this month, is billed as a hub for residents, businesses, accountants, researchers and government partners in search of tax-related information. Like many of the projects mentioned earlier in this round-up, it was built with the end user experience in mind. Sensing a trend here?

You can find screenshots of the old revenue site versus the new site here, and the difference is a great example of what human-centric design is all about, as well as why it matters.

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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