B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N


of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 31, No. 2    December/January 2005

Go to
Bulletin Index

bookstore2Go to the ASIST Bookstore

Copies

Special Section: E-Government

Michigan : A Recipe for E-Government Development
by Eric Frederick

Eric Frederick is a graduate student in the Urban and Regional Planning Program, Michigan State University . He can be reached by email at frede110@msu.edu

Michigan : the Wolverine State , the Great Lakes State , the Auto State , the Digital State ? TechNet’s State Broadband Index ranked Michigan ’s policy toward information and communications technology (ICT) first in the nation in 2001. More and more Michigan residents are able to access the Internet via high-speed connections and are therefore logging on to e-government sites for municipalities all over the state for a variety of services. Not only do Michigan residents have access to governmental websites, but they also have the desire to conduct government business and view government-related information online. This article reports on the positive and negative aspects of Michigan ’s policy on technology infrastructure and Michiganders’ attitudes toward that technology and e-government.

Progressive Policy – Two Cups

The Internet, importantly the way in which the Internet allows society access to a plethora of information, is only as good as the user’s connection to it. With 43% of Michigan residents using the Internet daily, and 89% of residents having access at home (compared to the national average of 50.5%), the types of connections these users have is important. In a recent survey, over 900 Michigan Internet users were asked what type of access they have at home. A majority of users (59.8%) indicated they have a dial-up, narrowband connection. Only 1.4% has no available connection at their residence (meaning that there is no access to a narrow- or broadband network), leaving 38.8% having some form of broadband connection (either DSL, cable, ISDN or any combination thereof) (See Figure 1.) These broadband connections give residents high-speed access to government information, educational tools and other forms of media with a faster Internet connection.

 Figure 1: State of the State Survey: Connection Type Distribution

Michigan residents not already using broadband technology were also asked how likely they are to gain broadband within the next year. More than one-third of residents (36.4%) indicated they are either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to acquire access to broadband in the next year. In some areas, broadband can be a costly monthly expense. Considering these potentially high costs, 36.4% is a relatively high percentage. This response shows that Michigan residents want and are willing to pay for high-speed access to the Internet. This attitude is consistent with two other questions asked in the survey.

            The survey asked several questions to capture the significance of the Internet to Michigan residents. Respondents of the survey, produced by Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, were asked to evaluate the following statement: “All Michigan residents should be able to access the Internet.” More than four-fifths (82.8%) responded either “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree.” (See Figure 2.) The second question indicative of Michigan ’s attitude toward high-speed technology and online access was “Is the Internet essential in the function of today’s society?” Eighty-eight percent of Michiganders responded with “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree.” Both of these questions support Michigan ’s readiness to accept policy aimed at deploying broadband technology to the entire state (Figure 3.)

 Figure 2: State of the State Survey: Is the Internet Essential?

Figure 3: State of the State Survey: All Michigan Access  

The State Broadband Index, produced by TechNet and Analysys Consulting, examines and ranks states according to their broadband policies in three areas: deployment, supply-side and demand-side. TechNet compiled a list of “best practices” for states to follow when implementing broadband policy. The following is a condensed version of that list:

Deployment Policies

·        States should adopt policies that standardize and expedite rights-of-way permitting

·        States should limit the fees imposed for rights-of-way access

Supply-Side Policies:

·        States should adopt a broadband strategy and formal plan

·        States should assess their broadband status through a map or catalog of existing infrastructure

·        States should allow municipalities to provide wholesale services with their own broadband networks

Demand-Side Policies:

·        States should adopt initiatives that provide incentives for public-sector and private-sector users to access broadband networks

·        States should actively encourage broadband usage by citizens through e-government initiatives

·        States should encourage government usage of broadband applications

After establishing these “best practice” benchmarks, TechNet then ranked each state’s policy for each category. Michigan received the highest marks in each category and therefore the highest overall score across all states. The action that set Michigan apart from the other states is the LinkMichigan initiative of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The LinkMichigan 2001 initiative analyzes Michigan ’s current status of high-speed technology use and provides recommendations to the Michigan legislature as to the course of action necessary to position the state as a leader in broadband infrastructure. Below are the summarized recommendations made in the LinkMichigan report:

Statewide Public User Aggregation & Request for Proposals (RFP)

·        Aggregate collective purchasing demand of the state, higher education users, K-12 users, local government users and any other public partners and ask (through an RFP) private-sector bidders interested in serving the state to provide advanced telecommunication services to each.

·        Require by contract that providers build and maintain a high-speed backbone infrastructure that extends to most regions of the state to serve these customers.

·        Require by contract that winning vendor resell excess network capacity on a non-discriminatory wholesale basis to increase competition and encourage investment in regions that might not otherwise attract new service providers.

Tax and Permitting Fairness

·        Establish level regulatory playing field for all telecommunications and information carriers.

·        Enact one-stop right-of-way permitting system to create common rules for all carriers.

·        Establish one common tax and fee system to replace differing systems in place around the state today.

Access to Information

·        Enact laws and/or rules requiring all telecommunications and information carriers to provide specific network location and capability information.

·        Develop and enforce quality-of-service standards so that businesses and other purchasers of advanced telecommunication services are able to plan and not have business operations disrupted because of continual installation delays.

·        Link reporting to the approval of right-of-way permits.

Community Assistance

·        Provide local community planning grants so that local officials can develop their own last-mile solutions for their communities.

·        Encourage communities to link or leverage their local strategies to the statewide backbone initiative.

·        Assistance should not be given to communities that have established barriers to new telecommunications investment.

By examining the “best practices” developed by TechNet and the recommendations of the LinkMichigan initiative, the strong correlation between the two helps one understand how Michigan ranks highest among all other states in implementing aggressive policies toward broadband deployment. Michigan still has a majority of residents without broadband and therefore still has some distance to cover to improve access for these citizens. Most of this effort will come from last-mile initiatives to reach residents in more remote areas of the state. Policy, however, is only good if there is legislation enacted to help implement the ideas.

Legislation – 3 Tablespoons

From the LinkMichigan initiative a package of legislation, entitled the Michigan HI Speed Internet Package (2002), was enacted that includes three separate bills: the first bill, known as the Metropolitan Extension Telecommunications Rights-of-Way Oversight (METRO) Act, sets common fees and a maximum permit delay for municipalities and also creates the METRO Authority to oversee the new system. The second bill creates the Michigan Broadband Development Authority to control a fund that grants incentives for broadband deployment, and the third bill increases an incentive for deployment of broadband services that gives a property tax credit to offset rights-of-way fees. These bills demonstrate Michigan ’s active acceptance of broadband policy.

A Pinch of Community Aggressiveness

Some Michigan municipalities also are emerging as their own Internet Service Provider (ISP) to the residents of their communities. One example is the City of Coldwater , Michigan . The Coldwater Board of Public Utilities (CBPU) provides the residents of Coldwater with cable television and high-speed Internet access via cable modem. Wireless opportunities for residents also are becoming available through the CBPU. This gives the citizens of the community a choice in ISPs between the private sector and the public sector. This development shows the active involvement of public-sector entities in stimulating the deployment of ICT.

Preheat the State for the Future

Even though Michigan has incorporated some of the “best practice” principles developed by TechNet, there are key elements the state has yet to expand upon. Michigan currently does not have a formal, comprehensive plan for the development of broadband technology. Such a plan would aid the state in setting clear goals and timelines for future development. A statewide strategy would also set unified standards to which public- and private-sector ISPs would be held accountable. Benchmarks could also be set to gauge the progress of the plan and broadband deployment. Despite relatively high numbers of broadband users across the state, a majority of users still use dial-up or a narrowband connection.

A story recently printed in the Detroit News tells the tale of a woman living in a rural county in Michigan not so distant from the suburban life of Detroit and the academic and highly educated environment of Ann Arbor . Both of these more developed regions have more or less excellent access to broadband technology; however, a woman living not 25 miles from an extensive digitally developed region cannot access a dial-up network from her home at a reasonable cost. She must dial a long distance number, which can cost great sums of money for extended Internet use. In short, Michigan still has a long way to go in terms of last-mile digital infrastructure development. While more densely populated areas have readily available access to broadband networks, more rural areas of the state are lacking these critical connections.

Positive, Forward Thinking – 1/2 Cup

The discussion here, so far, has been about digital infrastructure development in Michigan and the state’s role on the leading edge of policies to implement broadband technology. However, providing the physical infrastructure is not enough for the state to maintain its position as a technology leader for development. The next step after digital development is intelligent development, which is the smart and innovative use of technology. A prime example of this development is e-government. The following is an analysis of how the state of Michigan is using its digital infrastructure to promote e-government as well as Michigan residents’ attitudes toward e-government development and usage.

A survey prepared for Cyber-state.org, a nonprofit, non-partisan advocate for information technology in Michigan , examined Michiganders’ attitude toward e-government and Internet use. Two similar surveys were conducted, a random phone survey and an online survey. The online survey was much more comprehensive and asked three particularly significant questions regarding citizens’ use of e-government.

The first question asked residents to rank local government services they would be interested in being able to access via the Internet, on a scale from one to five, with five being “very interested.” These services included reading city policies and regulations, checking on construction and development including permit and inspection status, accessing property tax data and assessments, paying local fees or fines, filing complaints, applying for permits and licenses, and emailing local officials. Respondents answering with a four or five ranged from 49% to 73% for each of the aforementioned government services. Michigan residents want to be able to conduct government business online.

The second significant question listed government sectors and whether respondents wanted the government to put more effort into offering more services online for each of the sectors. Respondents could answer with “little effort,” “moderate effort” or “great effort.” The government sectors included education, economy, health care, human services, natural resources, tourism, homeland security and transportation. With the exception of natural resources and transportation, receiving 44% and 41% respectively, every government sector received more than 50% of respondents saying that the government should put great effort into improving the online services of these sectors.

The final significant question related to e-government asked residents if they would make greater use of government services online if the services were available from a single site, one that linked local, state and federal information from a single point of access. More than two-thirds (69%) of the respondents answered “yes,” they would be more likely to utilize these services if available from a single site. Ease of use is an important characteristic when residents decide to conduct government business online.

Just a Dash of Skepticism

The results from this survey solidify the fact that Michigan residents are ready to use e-government services and access government related information via the Internet. However, with more information available online and more residents entering their personal information into a public medium, the issues of security and confidentiality immediately arise. The survey also asked Michigan residents how concerned they are with computer-based service websites not keeping personal records confidential. More than half (54%) of those surveyed said they were “very concerned” with information not being kept classified while 14% stated they were “not at all concerned.” Along these same lines, residents were asked if government agencies keeping public records such as driving records, property tax records and court cases should make these records publicly available on the Internet. An overwhelming 81% of respondents indicated that these records should not be available over the Internet. Michigan residents seem to want to use e-government services but have concerns when it comes to the confidentiality of their personal information and public records. When and if government websites can offer higher levels of security regarding private information, citizens would be more likely to use the services provided by these sites. Confidentiality concerns aside, Michigan municipalities have begun to employ e-government services to their citizens.

Quality Examples to Follow – 1/4 Teaspoon

Michigan has 1,859 local government agencies. In 2004, 29% of these municipalities had a presence on the Web. In 1999-2000 this number was only 5%, in 2000-2001, 13% and in 2002-2003, 20%. The number of government agencies providing services online has risen at a steady rate, but is still not high enough. The catalyst for this growth has been Michigan ’s progressive policy toward broadband technology deployment, as discussed earlier, and Michigan residents’ progressive attitude toward the use of e-government. Cyber-state.org also has compiled a report entitled Michigan’s Online Local Government. This report ranks all levels of government – county, township and city – using the Website Attribute Evaluation System (WAES). This evaluation examines the ease of use and content of websites as they relate to the average user. From these website examinations it was found, unfortunately, that most municipal websites offer lots of content and data for users to access but do not have a logical information architecture for users to follow. Also, the data flow between users is mostly one way. That is, the government is providing information to users but users are not able to give feedback to officials, file complaints or fill out forms. Some municipal sites, however, do offer advanced interactive features for users. Below is a listing of Michigan e-government sites that have innovative features pertaining to each category of service:

Filing a Complaint Online

·        Sterling Heights : www.ci.sterling-heights.mi.us/ (click on “Contact Us”)

·        Grand Rapids : www.grand-rapids.mi.us/683

Code and Ordinance Information

·        East Jordan : www.eastjordancity.com/html/city_ordinances.html

·        Dearborn Heights : www.dhol.org/ (click on “Ordinances Online”)

Police and Crime Information

·        Ann Arbor : www.ci.ann-arbor.mi.us/Police/

·        Waterford Township : http://twp.waterford.mi.us/police/unsolved_crimes.htm

Interactive Functions (permits, applications and GIS online)

·        Auburn Hills: www.auburnhills.org/info/default.aspx

·        Northville: http://ci.northville.mi.us/Services/Clerk/BusinessLicenseRegistration.htm

·        Grand Rapids : www.ci.grand-rapids.mi.us/index.pl?page_id=1450

Maps and Documents

·        Marquette: www.mqtcty.org/

·        Alpena: www.alpena.mi.us/docs/helpdocpage.htm

E-Commerce (online payments and bidding)

·        Muskegon : www.ci.muskegon.mi.us/financial/payments/default.asp

·        Washtenaw: www.ewashtenaw.org/government/departments/finance/purchasing/online_bids/open_bids.html

            These municipal websites offer residents quality services and important information for conducting business with government.

Stir All Ingredients Together

The development of e-government in Michigan is the first step toward intelligent development utilizing the state’s extensive broadband infrastructure. With only 29% of Michigan municipalities online, the state has a long way to go in creating a comprehensive e-government environment for citizens of all communities. However, with the progressive policy aimed at the extension of the physical infrastructure of broadband technology recommended by the LinkMichigan initiative and the package of bills enacted by the legislature, Michigan has the “regulatory backbone” for building a successful e-government atmosphere.

Along with broadband infrastructure, the citizens of Michigan also support the “user-friendly backbone” for e-government. Most Michiganders want to see government functions available online, and this positive attitude gives communities the confidence needed to pursue such endeavors. Municipalities currently lacking a comprehensive government website have examples of quality sites already developed by other communities in the state as a reference. E-government is only the first step toward e-governance, the synthesis of intelligent development including e-commerce, e-business and other creative uses of digital technology. The state government should set an example, using e-government for the promotion of intelligent development and to spark other imaginative and inventive uses of digital infrastructure. With the combination of broadband infrastructure and policy, Michiganders’ positive attitude toward e-government and quality examples of already developed community websites, the state of Michigan is transforming itself into a state of technological growth. Now bake at a statewide level and serve to all citizens.

For Further Reading

Public Sector Consultants, Inc. (2001 May). Information technology in Michigan : Findings from the 2001 Cyber-state survey. Ann Arbor , MI : Cyber-state.org. Retrieved October 19, 2004, from www.pscinc.com/Documents/cyberstate/2001/report.pdf .

Michigan Economic Development Corporation. (2001 May). LinkMichigan. Retrieved October 19, 2004, from http://medc.michigan.org/cm/attach/94595AF5-BAE2-4BEE-856A-22DA8A130538/linkmichigan2.pdf

Cyber-State.org. (2004 June). Connecting the dots in Michigan: Michigan’s online local government: An evaluation of the state’s localities on the Internet – 4th egovernment review. Ann Arbor, MI: Cyber-State.org. Retrieved October 19, 2004, from www.cyber-state.org/1_0/2004%20Local%20Government/2004LocalGovReport.pdf

TechNet, & Analysis Consultants. (2002). The State Broadband Index: An assessment of state policies impacting broadband deployment and demand. Retrieved October 19, 2004 from www.technet.org/resources/State_Broadband_Index.pdf

Michigan State University, Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. (In press). State of the State Survey Results. (In press). To be made available at www.ssc.msu.edu/~espace/SmartMich.htm.


How to Order

American Society for Information Science and Technology
8555 16th Street, Suite 850, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA
Tel. 301-495-0900, Fax: 301-495-0810 | E-mail:
asis@asis.org

Copyright © 2005, American Society for Information Science and Technology