Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Connected by broadband, slow in applications (6)

E-Government is also a subject in the context of broadband. What can broadband contribute to e-Government? The Netherlands was in the forefront of e-Government years ago. The Internal Revenue Service has made great progress. But that is relatively easy as most of the correspondence is through forms. But communication with town hall is often either impossible or fragmented. And of course there are the famous myths about e-Government: you can apply for a passport through internet; try it. You will have to go to the town hall at least twice, if not more.
At the Meeting of Minds the themes for e-Government were ambitious. The Dutch government is loosing its contact with its citizen, if the service level will not be upscaled to 24/7 and virtual contact. The heart of the Netherlands delta between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht is loosing its function as a national economic motor, eventually to be downsized in comparison to other European areas. There is a growing need for regional television, using digital TV, web TV or interactive TV. The level of service and provisions in rural villages and municipal disadvantaged areas takes on dramatic shape.

At the meeting officials were present of one of those rural villages, the municipality Aa en Hunze. The municipality has set up a project, Digitale Brink, which can be translated into English as the Digital Commons, the place where villagers meet.

The project is intended to upgrade the service level to the situation when the village still had a baker, butcher, grocer and a post office as well as primary and secondary schools. Also then the level of health care was intense. Now many of those shops have closed and factories have moved away. The schools have been merger in learning factories. And the level of health care has been downgraded.

With broadband the municipality wants to improve the level again and upgrade it to the urban levels. So the municipality will start a virtual counter for municipal affairs. The services will not be limited to just filling in forms and returning them to the civil servants. However they will also be able to ‘skype’ with or without a webcam with the citizen in order to deal directly with problems, requests and applications. The second area is health care. Here 80 care clients will experiment with television with webcam. Eventually 300 clients should be linked for health care issues, contact with medics and social contacts. The third area comprises the two schools in the municipality. They have to be more integrated with the community. Besides, after school activities should be better coordinated.

The project will take the shape of a public-private partnership, where the municipality and province will work side by side with private enterprise. ICT companies are very important in this project. But as one of the potential company representatives said: the technology is there, we can write the applications, but we will have to talk how we want to realise the goals.

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