Thursday, January 24, 2008

Questions on Wi-Fi in Government Center

According to The Blade's article about the on-going discussions of establishing wireless internet access in the Toledo City Council offices and meeting chamber, the County may want to partner on the project.

First, you should know that the County has provided wireless access to its own network for several years, in both offices and the Commissioners meeting chambers. This is access only to the County system and is restricted to county employees, though it does allow employees to connect to the Internet through the system.

Having used the wireless access as a Commissioner, I can attest to how convenient it was to be able to bring down only my laptop for meetings - having ready access to electronic copies of documents rather than having to carry papers around. The laptops we used also had a stylus we could use for actually taking notes on the various documents by 'writing' on the screen. The idea was that we would use only the laptops in place of a regular computer on our desk. Many county staff were also converting over to laptops in place of regular computers, so this was part of the on-going/regular computer replacement program.

But the open wi-fi being discussed is much different than simple wireless access to a closed, secure system.

So, the questions that need to be asked in consideration of such a system are:

1) How does adding a new system within the County save the County any money?

"Councilman Joe McNamara said collaborating with the county on the idea would be a step toward cutting spending within both government entities."

As the county already has wireless access to its own system and to the internet through that system, creating a public wi-fi would be a new service and an additional cost which would duplicate existing access for county employees. It would basically be the county paying for the public to access the internet in the building.

It would certainly mean that neither the city nor the county would incur the total costs of any new system. But what is the demand for such a thing? How many individuals have expressed a desire for wireless internet access in either the city council or county meeting rooms? And, if there is such a desire, why should government pay for it when individuals have access to all types of wireless systems through the open market? Many cell phone providers also have plans for wireless internet access, so if someone wants the convenience of wireless access when they go to city council or commissioner meetings, all they have to do is sign up - and pay for it themselves.

If, however, the plan is to provide wireless access to the city's internal system, then there is no reason for the county to expend any monies for that project.

2) If Council decides to move members and staff away from paper and toward computers via use of a wireless system, then they need to understand some of the other costs involved in such a switch. This would require laptops for all councilmen and staff - and also for any administration who might find use of such convenient during their appearances at council.

In the long run, I'm certain that they could justify the costs via a cost-benefit analysis, but they cannot budget only for the cost of the wireless. They must also budget for the purchase of the laptops, their configuration, licensing and their maintenance.

Any legislation addressing the purchasing of a wi-fi system should first be preceded by a plan for equipping council members with the hardware necessary to take advantage of the wireless system.

Unfortunately, if such a plan exists, it's not been reported upon.

3) Why is council considering expenditures of funds prior to voting on the budget? I understand the need to have committee meetings on such topics, but would think that any action would wait until after the budget is passed.

It makes much more sense to me if council were to decide what they'd like to do, put such plans into the budget and not act until they finalize the budget. As it currently stands, there have already been ordinances presented authorizing expenditures that were not included in the 2008 budget submitted by the mayor. Common sense would dictate that the budget is first addressed - where spending can be prioritized and such items as a wi-fi system or even CareNet can be considered as part of the overall spending plan for the city.

If they pass such spending items ahead of the budget, council will be faced with having to cut something else in order to stay within the projected revenues.

Those are the questions I have - what about you?

1 comment:

Hooda Thunkit said...

This whole government sponsored WiFi thing brings up so many questions, not the least of which is, does the need for public WiFi access justify the costs.

I have no doubt that the City and its employees could benefit from the access.

I doubt that anyone else who needs public access is still without access, having already secured access on their own.

But, don't get me started ;-)

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