Historically, the function of information systems has often been referred to as Management of Information Systems (MIS), Management of Data Systems (MDS) and sometimes as Information Technology (IT). With the exponential move towards increasing performance and efficiencies in the delivery of services in public entities, including local, county, and school institutions, the comprehensive term of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has been applied in research and for use by practitioners, to encompass all aspects of information conveyance. The dependence and necessity of information is crucial for the public sector in being transparent and for the expectations of the taxpayer/ratepayer in showing a return on investment (ROI). City managers and their staff are acutely aware of the finite resources in striving to meet the goals of the elected officials and the populace at hand.
While most entities develop ICTs around their specific organizational needs, the arena of information dissemination in communities has seen phenomenal growth through social networking and through the Internet. An observer might say that the Internet is available and accessible to most individuals with a smart phone, laptop/desk top computer or similar device. However, research states otherwise and there exists an inaccessibility or inability to have access to the Internet creating what is termed the “digital divide.” In other words, the digital divide sets up the division of the “haves” and “have-nots” when it comes to access to the Internet. In the September 7, 2017, Governing periodical stated that even with the rapid increase of Internet services and new digital devices, numerous low-income municipalities are lacking Internet access. It further stated, “Slightly less than half of all households with incomes under $20,000 reported having Internet access in the Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey. By comparison, about 93 percent of wealthier households with annual incomes exceeding $75,000 were connected.” More specifically, the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas/San Antonio noted in a report “of the 381 metropolitan areas in the U.S., those with the lowest rates of computer ownership and Internet use include three Texas border metro areas.”
Without elaborating on the specifics of the Texas border areas, the US Census data illustrates that the border regions are challenged in various ways, including the economic barriers of the region. This same observation could be applied to areas outside of major metropolitan areas including rural communities where resources are limited.
In developing this ICT overview, especially in jurisdictions where the digital divide can be narrowed or where the Internet access could be expanded, it is noteworthy to illustrate how one community in South Texas has successfully capitalized on the concept of a public/private partnership. The City of Alton, population of 17,500, saw the need to embark on this endeavor for the installation and operation of a Wi-Fi for the entire municipality. A policy issue was established that set a goal of providing Wi-Fi without cost to residents and commercial establishments. In order to ensure the long-term commitment for this policy, the City of Alton Development Corporation “CADC” set the tone for taking the lead in the ownership of all of the ICT equipment. The private partner was to provide the software and maintenance to the CADC with a ceiling cap on maintenance.
Legislation existed under the Public and Private Facilities and Infrastructure Act, Chapter 2267, Texas Government Code for such a partnership to occur. Through the CADC and its executive director and through the support of the mayor/city commission and its city manager, the CADC entered into a public/private partnership with WiFiRUs, LLC. After a pilot project was completed with a positive response based upon data received, a mutually agreed upon master plan was developed for installation based upon a budget with a ceiling/cap and guaranteed total cost of the project. In addition to ensuring the integrity of the overall system, the private partner would have sole oversight of any additional premium pay channels to the end subscriber, if they elected to engage such services. Financial planning for the project was slated for three years in a four-phase implementation schedule. The total cost of the project was set at $1.437 million. The unique financial planning aspect of the model allows the CADC to authorize the phases contingent upon available funding. In this manner, the project is built on a pay as you go method, without any undue debt.
On May 1, 2018, Phase I of the Wi-Fi project had been completed. As of May 1, 2019, 50% of the project had been completed. The City of Alton sets a standard as a best practice, especially in times when revenues are prioritized.
Information cited in this article can be accessed in, “Closing the Digital Divide: A Case Study in Alton, Texas,” Milford J., July 2018. The full article and references can be accesses at the following URL: http://www.goodgovernanceworldwide.org/glbl_articles.html
(Article submitted by: John R. Milford, Graduate Professional Practitioner Lecturer III Coordinator – Certified Public Manager Program, Department of Public Affairs and Security Studies, College of Liberal Arts University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg Campus and TCMA Life Member. If you have interesting news or helpful topics to share, please submit them to Kim Pendergraft at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep the information to fewer than 750 words.)