Technology and the Government | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Technology and the Government

Google Cities
Google set off grassroots campaigns in dozens of cities this year when it announced its Google Fiber for Communities contest. Google promised to finance enormous fiber-optic infrastructure projects in the city with the best proposal. The project would provide connection speeds of 1 gigabit per second—100 times faster than broadband available to most Americans—for up to 500,000 people, the company said.

More than 1,100 communities submitted proposals before Google's March 26 deadline. Community groups, tech-savvy professionals and politicians banded together to show support for their cities' bids. In publicity stunts, mayors went skydiving and swam with sharks.

Six Mississippi cities entered the competition: Clinton, Hattiesburg, Moss Point, Oxford, Ridgeland and Starkville, as well as Harrison County. Google has said it will pick a winning city or cities by the end of the year. Jackson didn't enter a proposal, but city leaders could take note all the same. Not only is technology an enormous economic boost, but it can also be a community rallying point.

Government Tech
Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr.'s much vaunted "311" system for making city services more transparent is set for a rollout in late February. The Jackson City Council has approved the purchase of equipment for the system—which would log, track and map citizen's complaints and requests made by dialing 3-1-1—but the city is waiting for permission to use the 311 phone number from the Mississippi Public Service Commission.

City spokesman Chris Mims said he expects the PSC to grant its permission this month, clearing the way for the city to hire two to three call-center employees and ready the system for public use.

• Citizens dial 3-1-1 on their phones or visit the city's 311 website to register complaints about open fire hydrants, potholes, abandoned properties, water main breaks and other issues and nuisances.

• The 311 system automatically logs the complaint, generates a work order and submits it to the relevant city department.

• Citizens can check the progress of their service request online. Johnson hopes to eventually integrate 311 with geographic information systems, or GIS, technology, allowing city personnel and residents to view maps of complaints.

• 311 systems in other cities show varying rates of use. Detroit's system fields an average of 26 calls per year for every 100 residents, while New York City's received a whopping 224 calls per 100 residents, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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