Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Morning News' Skip Descant reports on meeting of the Fayetteville telecommunication board's Internet committee

The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas
Officials Consider Policy For City's Use Of Online Tools
By Skip Descant
FAYETTEVILLE — The Fayetteville Telecom board wants to exercise caution before clicking onto common social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. The board is considering a city policy regarding how City Hall can use these "Web 2.0" tools to distribute information.
"Don't we give up some degree of control of that information, by the public," said Andrew Mayes, who chairs the Telecom Board (actually chairman of the board's Internet subcommittee, appointed by Telecom Board chairman Aubrey Shepherd in February).
The board wondered about what legal and ease-of-management considerations must be weighed before moving too quickly down the Web 2.0 road.
"If you use some of the Google tools like Gmail or Google Maps, and Google comes in and makes changes, well that's a consideration that constantly comes up with those tools," Mayes elaborated after the meeting.
The measure was brought forward by City Council member Matthew Petty, who wants the city to explore areas to engage the public on a larger range of platforms. But he went on to stress that he is not advocating any abandonment of the standard modes of communication like postings on the Web site, advertisements in local newspapers or e-mail.
"We need to make sure we don't make the mistake that these social media tools are the only way to access city information," Petty said Petty.
Petty has constantly stressed that since so many Fayetteville residents are regular consumers of social media, the city should explore added ways to engage them along these platforms.
"I don't want to you to think that I'm anti-Web 2.0," Mayes, a software engineer and the "technology architect" for the Fayetteville School District, told Petty. "It's far from the truth."
The board also explored how it should manage a city-sponsored free Wi-Fi signal. One currently — or at least, intermittently — beams across the downtown square.
The signal is joint project among local businesses and City Hall. The agreement was that Fayetteville would pick up the cost of equipment if the private sector maintained the signal.
"We haven't paid for anything yet, because we're not paying for anything until it works right," said Don Marr, Fayetteville chief of staff.
But regardless, the idea of an open access wireless signal is enough to make the public-policy oversight bodies like the Telecom Board at least a little nervous, particularly when considering issues like cyber-crime.
"You could find out the hard way," Mayes said.
Petty maintained that the system should not be viewed through the same prism as an Internet signal for children, and the city should not be in the business of policing it.
"I'm a net-neutrality guy," Petty said. "If someone is sitting on the square watching dirty movies, let the police bust him."
Free community Wi-Fi signals are not new, and Fayetteville should take a look at what cities have already done, said Marvin Hilton, a member of the Telecom Board.
Web Watch
Social Media Already Accessed Via Fayetteville's Web Site

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