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Developing telecommunications framework.

A city uses telecommunications to provide services and information to its citizens. For example, a city may cablecast its council meetings, give the community access to public documents using computers, enable interested parties to fax their concerns directly to the council member or provide low cost data transmission to nonprofit agencies by linking them onto the government institutional network.

Telecommunications technologies can provide the city with the means of delivering more services to more people of delivering more services to more people in less time for less money. Telecommunications permits a city to reorganize how and where these communications are performed and can increase the efficiency of the municipal corporation.

Current Status

Telecommunications use is relatively concentrated in a few departments, the distribution of resources has created telecommunications haves and have-nots. The resources in any given city might follow the following hypothetical distribution:

The Haves:

Police and fire departments. Public safety has the longest tradition of telecommunications use, because: a) such services require mobility and ar delivered near their point of consumption (i.e. beat patrol or the site of a crime or fire), and b) their services are generally urgently needed, and response time is an important factor.

As a result, police cars are virtually mobile nodes in a complex voice and data network using radio and microwave frequencies. The next generation of hand held radios will make the individual field officer a mobile node in the network, able to access many of the sam voice and data services available now only in the police car.

Fire departments have many of the same characteristics as police deployment except that: a) fire service units are larger, and b) fire service requires high levels of continuous classroom training. Fire trainers tend to be the most advanced in-house users of video for on way lesson distribution and interactive video conferences.

The Intermediates:

Transportation, computing (perhaps finance), libraries, public works and city council. Public works is a traditional user like fire and police due to the dispersal of facilities and the mobile nature of the services. But, the problems created by remote maintenance yards and rolling stock require only modest investments in radio and microwave.

Transportation and computing departments are comers. Significant aspects of the transportation mission have become dependent on communications. Transportation system management techniques from the traffic signal control to smart corridors require two way data communications between individual intersections and central control. In the extreme case, Los Angeles is developing a $50 million demonstration project named Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control Systems (ATSAC). ATSAC will construct a fiber optic telecommunications system capable of transmitting video images and high speed data from dozens of freeway locations and intersections to a central ground control facility. A series of computer controlled freeway information signs and a low power AM radio station will communicate with drivers.

Furthermor, transportation demand management techniques such as ride sharing rely on computers, local area networks and the public switched network in order to match and respond to drivers' requests.

Libraries, having embraced automation in the 70s, have initiated a range of projects to bring the library into the classroom, the home and the work place using phone and computer access (Pasadena and Knoxville, Tenn. to name two). Kern County library, with a grant from the telephone company, now serves the residents of the 8,000 square-mile county with three bookmobiles which are connected to the library's mainframe by packet radio systems.

Computing departments have a short history of sharing resources on a mainframe or mini-computer with remote terminals connected over dedicated lines (hierarchical model). Beyond a certain threshold of terminals, this led to the well known "spagneti farms" of wire clogged ducts.

The explosion of desk top computing during the 1980's led to the development of communication based computing known as the client service model. Within this model, a set of stand-alone computers are connected to become a network of computers which then evolves into a computing network with a variety of special purpose nodes. Costs of computing have tumbled with the adoption of desk top computers.

Ultimately, computing departments (under the hierarchical model) are the first users of data circuits on a city-wide backbone network, howevr it is defined. The client server model is often developed quietly by end user departments through local area networks (LANs). Once a certain number is reached, communications between the LANs--usually over the city network or leased lines--is required.

Many city councils now cablecast their public meetings. Some are using electronic mail, voice mail or fax "networks" to facilitate communications with individual constituents.

The Trailers:

City managers, and workers with planning, recreation and parks.

The city manager often has either high levels of central computing support or a developed local area network, and they are used for electronic mail and management information systems.

Planning departments have become increasingly interested in mapping software and geo-based information systems. In some cases, internal sharing and remote access to these resources has begun to occur.

Some recreation and parks departments became communications users by cablecasting softball games and other recreation events with video production resources and the government channel available through the cable television franchise.

The Have-nots:

Social services, aging, community development, controller, and city attorney.

This group includes departments that are overwhelmed by their tasks and cannot muster the resources to consider using new tools, despite their desperate need for better communications. It also includes departments that simply have never had a tradition of communications or high technology use. However, the League of California Cities' CITYLINK, along with a variety of other information providers, are developing special databases (legislative tracking, municipal code updates, etc.) for city attorneys and other specialized city departments equipped with a computer and a modem.

In summary, municipal corporations tend not to have departments responsible for directing strategic change and/or for forecasting and planning for the city's future needs for telecommunications. Individual departments, therefore, fend for themselves. As a result, a few departments, like fire and police, acquire powerful capabilities while most do not.


The trend is to reinforce the existing hierarchy of resource distribution. This happens in two ways:

[Section] Most cities do not have a central department to facilitate the organizational strategies of all other departments. As a result only those departments with internal expertise to plan, budget, and implement new telecommunications systems and, therefor, have the resources to innovate in service delivery.

[Section] Telecommunications vendors develop and market innovations primarily to those departments with expertise and, therefore, with budgets.

As a consequence, departmentl innovtion in service production has generally been slow. Telecommuting, for example, plays a very small role to date. And, the vendors are reluctant to develop applications for local government when existing demand is low.

Department innovation in service delivery has not only been slow but tends to be limited to isolated special projects. Use of the government cable channel for distribution of public information varies dramatically between cities; few cities have institutionalized their use of video. There has been little apparent experimentation with information kiosks or other terminal types for the distribution of public information. Using these public terminals or home computers to transact business (i.e., to receive and file forms, to obtain permits, etc.) has been even slower.

Voice messaging and e-mail have begun to appear inside municipal corporations for the purpose of increasing staff productivity. Interurban video conferencing remains unknown despite its successful demonstration by the National Science Foundation in the late 70's and by the private sector.

Actions--City as Telecommunications


1. For both "City as User" and "City as Consumer" the first action step is to set up a planning group that: has a high level commitment, has clearly defined responsibilities, has the necessary authority to complete the tasks and can involve all city departments. For example, the city manager could appoint a steering committee of key department heads to direct and coordinate the planning effort and to ensure that participants receive th necessary training. The committee could involve two task forces to provide information to the committee, to educate staff, and to develop department plans. One task force, made up of directors responsible for service delivry, could focus on "user" needs (#2 and #3 below), while a technical task force could work on the actions outlined under "City as Consumer."

2. Identify the short, mid- and long-term communication needs of the municipal corporation and of the community and the barriers to meeting those needs. It is important to go beyond the status quo in identifying these needs. Note that technology solutions can be found only after the communication needs have been identified.

3. Given the needs and barriers, identify specific organizational innovations. Some of those identified include:

a. Physical decentralization of production and delivery of city services.

b. Fees for service with value added services.

c. Public co-production of municipal services.

d. Strategic change in the mission of certain departments.

e. Cooperation among institutions in the same city.

f. Formation of consortium of JPAs between neighboring cities or between cities and county agencies.

Once these innovations are identified, strategies for the city as a whole and for individual departments can be developed.

4. Based on these strategies, detrmine the communication needs for the municipal corporation as a whole and for individual departments. Determine in particular the communication requirements to the home and to neighborhood institutions.

5. Convert the needs into implementation plans. The plans should incorporate necessary education and training of key city staff. Implementation plans include:

a. Long-range development of the municipal network that includes such opportunities as the renewal of the cable franchise, enforcement of other telecommunications franhises, municipal capital developments, special projects and grants, etc.

b. Annual goals for each department to implement those organizations innovations that have the highest priorities.

c. Annual capital budgets to acquire the netwok tools and technologies that satisfy the initial communications needs of each department. The tools might include:

i. Voice processing

ii. Electronic mail

iii. Video conferencing

6. Establish a permanent mechanism for institutionalizing telecommunications planning and implementation for all departments. The options include: a. An inter-departmental committee

b. Planning capacity within each department

c. Central city-wide planning capacity.

It is critical that the authority and responsibility for planning and implementation be clearly delineated, ideally with one entity.

7. Seke funding for these activities from a variety of sources:

a. Savings from becoming a mor effective telecommunications consumer and more efficient organization.

b. Resources acquired from land developers, franchised telecommunictions vendors and federal programs (see policy maker actions).

c. Revenue from telecommunication enterprises (including value added services, lease back of portions of the network)

d. Seek partnerships with private vendors.

e. Build communication components into the city proposals for outside funding.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Report: Taking the Computer Plunge
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jun 15, 1992
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