The County's baby steps on technology

Last week The Carrboro Citizen reported on Orange County leaders congratulating themselves on making major technology improvements over the past two years. "“Today’s servers are tomorrow’s mainframes, and we do have to have that kind of continuous upgrade of systems,” board Vice Chair Steve Yuhasz said." He's right of course, but it sounds like many of the changes were to internal infrastructure, so it's hard for us average residents to tell the difference. I'm wondering what technology OP readers would like to see the County improve?

One improvement that I did notice was the update to the web-based GIS system. Mostly it caught my attention because the County's site was down and/or malfunctioning for a while following the upgrade. It is now easier to use than before, which I would characterize as a step up from requiring a graduate degree to use, to merely requiring a lot of patience and guesswork.

Personally, the area in which I would most like to see technological improvement at the County level is the Board of Elections. Their web site is full of useful information, but it's almost as if they don't care if you use it. They have election dates, precinct addresses, voter demographics, and more, but it's often laid out as text rather than in a useful format, and like everything on the County site it's often hard to find. And then there's the gold mine of the BoE's campaign finance reports, all of which are posted online (an improvement from 5 years ago) as PDFs!

Candidates are now able to file their reports electronically in addition to the paper option, and yet County staff are still printing them out and then redigitizing them with a scanner to ensure minimal readability across the board. This is data on donations and spending that wants to live in a spreadsheet. In fact, it's likely some local or state official is entering it into a standardized form somewhere, why not just put it in a format and location that is accessible to the public?

Anyway, that's my #1 wish for county technology improvements.  What changes have you noticed, and what do you hope they tackle next?



I was listening to WCHL evening news earlier today, and I heard them talking about doing cost savings by reducing online education (I believe this was in reference to county schools, but I couldn't swear to it).  Granted all students need some level of one on one communication, but online courses as goods aren't as much "rival goods" as in-person ineducation.  In that a small classroom has physical limitations that online classes don't. I've done 3 distance education courses throughout my college career, and while I prefer in-person classes, I've noticed that they've gotten drastically better, and I realize they are cost saving measures.  When I'm watching a pre-recorded lecture, the professor doesn't have to give the same lecture 5 times to several sections of the class, and then do it all again next semester and the class sizes can expand beyond physical limitations of the facilities. It just struck me as odd that cutting back on online education  as a cost saving measure was regressing rather than embracing an opprotunity. Also, I completely agree with you about making election related information more public, visable, and usuable.  Anything that reduces barriers to understand and participating in elections is usually a good thing.

It's a CHCCS school issue. Here's a little background about this, because it came up in my elementary school's School Improvement Team meeting. I can't remember the details, but here's a DTH article that discusses them: The state of NC offers online high school courses, and just last year they started charging school districts for each student who takes a course; schools are also responsible for buying the books and other materials for the course. School districts are not allowed to pass through to students the costs of the courses. The concern wasn't about distance education per se, but that people were taking online courses that also were being offered at the school as in-person courses, and there often weren't good reasons for doing so. In addition, there's also concern that some of the courses just to resume pad. This obviously does cost the school system money, but I don't know the exact mix of courses that were taken or individual circumstances that lead to certain course offerings so I'm not qualified to judge how prevalent or serious this resume padding issue is.School board member Mia Burroughs is quoted in the DTH article and would probably be a good person to ask.

 My #1 wish for a County technology improvement is to have access to broadband internet service.  Yes, I used the b-word.  And yes, at this point ANY broadband access will do.  But if I really had my wildest wishes fulfilled, the broadband access would be consistent, competitive, affordable, and with speeds operating in the Mbps range.  Wow, this girl can dream big!   I understand that the County's urban residents and business may not yet be blanketed with affordable (or free) broadband internet service.  And now I'd like to point out the fact that many of the County's rural residents and businesses do not yet have ANY access to broadband internet service.   Nada, zilch, none, zippo, the big goose egg.   I speak from experience.  I am one of those many citizens living (and trying to work) in a broadband-deprived area.  Out here in N Orange, the best 'broadband' technology that my money can buy (from any of the 6 wireless companies) is equivalent to 2G, and 2.5G on a good day.   Sure, their service is advertised as 3G, with amazing 3-6 Mbps download speeds.  However, reality tests show that download speeds actually range 0.3-0.4 Mbps (less than 10% of the advertised speed).   What do the 2 cabled/wired broadband service providers have to say about these deficiencies in wireless coverage?  Their response, "You are in our future expansion area".  Gee, I wonder if their service boundary lines are marked in yellow. To get back to the forum subject...Hey, it would be great to see our local governments implement the latest and greatest internet tech tools and services.  But if they do, then it's likely that these bandwidth-hungry pages will shut out access to even more of the County's citizens.   (I wonder if our student's lack of internet access had anything to do with the County schools' decision to cut internet-based studies?  Sure, these County students could go to the local library to access a broadband connection...oh but the County closed the Northern Orange Library last year.) Try to imagine a world with No DSL, No Cable modems, No fiber, No actual 3G, and No 4G internet access speeds...a 21st century technological deadzone.  Now realize that these deadzones actually still exist in N Orange County (and parts of S Orange County too).    There's really not much you can do with a NON-broadband internet connection.   No broadband means... no access to online training courses, nonfunctional access to online GIS and mapping tools, no video streaming, no VoIP, strained access to online job applications, excruciatingly slow software app upgrades (that's if the connection doesn't drop mid-download), small email attachments, and very carefully limited access to our government's online forms and files.  Even the most rudimentary and practical online tools are unavailable. I wish our County would tackle the remaining technological deadzones first, and then work on building more user-friendly and functional websites.   I wish our State's e-advocacy group would at least display an accurate broadband map on their website (a map that verifies, acknowledges, and accurately displays the very real non-broadband areas in our state)(not just the telco's self-reported service areas).   Most of all I wish our State Representatives would stop introducing (and re-introducing) legislation to ban community-based communication services.  Just yesterday,  NC State House Bill 129 was filed by Wake republican rep. Marilyn Avila.  It's short title ---  Level Playing Field/Local Government Competition.  Here's a link to the news and the Bill.   What I see are Backwards Baby Steps in technology and an ever widening information divide between the have's and have nots. 


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