Municipal OSS and wireless.

Picking up where I left off at the last City Council meeting, here are tonight’s proposals in what I pretentiously call my my Ten for Ten program:

Municipal Use of Free Software
Municipalities and even nations have started to discover that they do not need to use expensive commercial software on their computers. For decades, software developers around the world have collaboratively written free software that frequently outperforms commercial software, much to the frustration of industry giants like Microsoft. Programs like Linux, Apache, OpenOffice, and Sendmail. Increasingly, U.S. municipalities and even whole nations are discovering that they can save millions of dollars by switching to this free software. The 70,000-person city of Largo, Florida made the switch a few years ago — they’re saving over a million dollars a year on software, hardware, support, and employee costs. The city of Munich, Germany made the switch last week. I can only imagine how much they’ll save.

I should like for the city to formalize the consideration of free software whenever appropriate. Because free software is not usually made by corporations, there is nobody available to respond to an RFP put out by the city IT department when they’re searching for a new mail server, a website management package, or 500 licenses for a word processor. I should like for the IT department to provide a bid to themselves, by researching the available options among free software programs, determining the cost of implementation, and considering those options on the same merits as third-party bids for commercial software. Having had some exposure to the IT department, notably employee John Lewis, I know that they are more than capable of providing well-researched internal bids to promote this cost saving measure.

The price tag on this? I suspect somewhere around $5,000 in employee time, but I’m afraid that I don’t know for certain. But the cost savings could be huge.

Downtown Municipal Wireless Network
In early January, I privately proposed to you the creation of a wireless network blanketing the Downtown Mall with Internet connectivity. Although there has been much further discussion, it has not yet happened. So allow me to say it again, in a public forum. The idea is this: use off-the-shelf hardware combined with inexpensive weather housing and a run-of-the-mill DSL Internet connection to create an 802.11b-based wireless network that would run from City Hall to the Omni. Laptops commonly come with the necessary hardware to connect to such a system. I’ve talked to restaurateurs, and they love it because it makes downtown the natural lunch and dinner spot for wired professionals that crave connectivity. Tourists and professionals here on business trips love it, because it makes downtown the obvious place to be to stay in touch with home. And, of course, citizens love it, because it makes it all the nicer to spend time sitting outside on beautiful days like today. Best of all, a local Internet service provider is willing to foot the bill for the cost of the DSL. The estimated price tag for all of this? A one-time fee of just under $3,000.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »