Communities

Va. Adopts Plan to Use Digital Signatures

The Virginia Council on Technology Services (COTS) in October moved closer to embracing the use of digital signatures for government business.

The approved plan recommends that the commonwealth should start to use digital signatures on a limited basis in early 2000. The pilot installations will focus on government-to-government, government-to-business and government-to-public transactions. Participants will include the departments of Information Technology, Motor Vehicles and Transportation as well as Chesterfield County and Fairfax County.

"I am pleased with the critical mass that we will have in this first wave, with participants spanning the government spectrum, including state agencies, higher education and local governments," said Don Upson, Virginia's secretary of technology.

Virginia is the fourth state in recent weeks to adopt some form of digital-signature resolution, following Minnesota, California and Pennsylvania.

If the pilot program succeeds, Virginia's General Assembly is scheduled to consider digital signatures in 2001. The plan can be viewed online at the COTS World Wide Web site at www.sotech.state.va.us/cots.

-- Dan Caterinicchia

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University Teams With NASA

Whe president of San Jose State University and the director of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., last month signed a memorandum pairing the entities in future research and development, technology commercialization and education partnerships.

The agreement states that the research and projects will be conducted at Ames Research Center's NASA Research Park with the goal of having a major economic and social impact in Silicon Valley across the public and private sectors and academia, said university president Robert Caret. "Partnerships between business, government and education are going to be absolutely crucial to our future," he said. "This partnership is an example of where we are headed in the next century."

Some aspects of the collaboration will focus on integrating technology in the classroom, including the development of K-12 science, math, engineering and technology programs; the development of a teacher institute; and graduate, credential and extended education programs.

-- Dan Caterinicchia

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Arizona's Remote-Controlled

Traffic Lights Debut for NASCAR Event

For the first time, the Arizona Department of Transportation used portable, battery-operated and remote-controlled traffic signals to help manage the approximately 200,000 auto racing fans expected for the annual NASCAR events at Phoenix International Raceway.

Scottsdale-based Traffic Technology Inc. (TTI) debuted its Unilight Trailblazer signal to handle the traffic surrounding the raceway during the weekend of Nov. 6-7.

"Traffic has been an absolute nightmare at PIR for years," said Helen Carroll, public information officer at the Maricopa County DOT. "PIR is located in a very rural, agricultural area, and there's only a few roads that get out there.... One year it took people about 10 hours to get out." The goal this year was to get everyone out in an hour.

The Trailblazer is controlled by an operator who obtains traffic information from observers in helicopters and from traffic-monitoring cameras. The system uses technology similar to a TV remote control to change the signals, said William Gartner, TTI's founder and president.

"The safety issue is addressed for officers because they don't have stand directly in the line of traffic," Gartner said, explaining that the signals can be changed from up to 100 feet away. "Also, the fact that it's so much easier to see than a flag guy or a guy with a little stop sign...for event traffic management, it really speeds things up, and people respond to it."

"Officials at ADOT have been looking for a signal like this...and were involved in the design of these signals as they were moving along," said ADOT spokesman Doug Nintzel.

ADOT purchased 24 units at $2,950 each, much less than traditional timed systems that cost about $9,000 each. An additional money saver is lighting in the signals, which are more efficient and last about five times longer than the usual incandescent bulbs.

The TTI signals have not been used in intersections yet, but Scottsdale plans to field test that concept. Gartner said hundreds of cities and 47 foreign countries already have inquired about the new system.

--Dan Caterinicchia

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911 Centers in Trouble

Only 50 percent of the nation's 911 centers are prepared to handle the millennium date change, according to the Clinton administration's final Year 2000 report released last month.

Although 99 percent of the federal government's mission-critical computer systems are ready, local and state governments and small businesses are still at risk, said John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion.

As of Oct. 1, survey results from more than 2,700 911 call centers operated by local governments revealed that only 50 percent of the centers were Year 2000-compliant. That means as the new year turns, computers in those centers could interpret the year 2000 as 1900 because of systems that rely on a two-digit date field to identify a year.

Because the council's surveys are confidential, Koskinen would not discuss which 911 centers are in trouble.

The problem lies with the centers' automation systems, which automatically dispatch emergency response teams to a particular area, Koskinen said. Most of the systems have manual backups that may cause delays in emergency response, he said.

Most centers expect to complete their work before the end of the year, he said. "Those who are not done are obviously cutting it very close," he said.

Koskinen stressed the need for the government, businesses and individuals to continue testing their systems and developing contingency plans.

"It is inevitable that there will be glitches in those systems even though they were tested and appear to be operating," he said.

Meanwhile, of the more than 6,000 mission-critical systems in the federal government, only 40 remain to be brought to compliance, Koskinen said. Most of those systems are in the Defense Department, which has sufficient backup and contingency plans for those systems, he said.

"We are confident, subject to glitches, that the basic work of the federal government is done," he said. Koskinen's report is the 11th in a series of updates on the federal government's progress in fixing Year 2000 problems. The Office of Management and Budget released the first quarterly report February 1997.

-- Paula Shaki Trimble

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Voter.com Provides Info for Voters and Candidates

A new for-profit political World Wide Web site helps voters find information on their pet issues while giving candidates a new platform to air their views.

Voter.com, launched last month, is a bipartisan site sponsored by national organizations such as as the Sierra Club, the Christian Coalition and the AFL-CIO. The site earns money by selling space to candidates and organizations as well as selling users' e-mail addresses to those groups.

The site's director of political outreach, Christina Lisi, said that Voter.com anticipates 3 million to 5 million visitors to the site during the 2000 election season. During that time, national and state campaign information will be available online. Lisi said she expects to add information on local races by 2001.

Voter.com works like this: People go to the site and register by typing in information about where they live and what issues matter to them. The site's database breaks down that information to show people the races in which they can vote and of those, the positions of the candidates. Moreover, people can compare candidates' views to the positions espoused by national interest groups.

Lisi calls the site an "easy sell" to candidates and groups eager for attention. "A lot of these guys have spent an enormous amount of money to set up [a] Web site," she said. "Like George W. [Bush], the only people that look at his site are Gore and Bradley. We'll get new people to their information."

Voter.com plans to spend as much as $20 million on a TV, radio and print advertising blitz starting in January.

-- Jill Rosen

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New PowerUP Initiative Aimed at Bridging the 'Digital Divide'

The Education Department last month joined partners from nonprofit organizations and businesses, including America Online, in launching a multimillion-dollar initiative to provide less-fortunate children access to information technology in an effort to bridge the "digital divide."

The new Power-UP initiative (www.powerup.org) will be based in schools and community centers, specifically the Education Department's Computer Technology Centers and 21st Century Community Learning Centers, to help supplement the educational goals of children during and after school hours. Pilot sites for PowerUP have been setup in San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; Alexandria, Va.; and Washington, D.C.

AOL chairman Steve Case, who also leads PowerUP, said it is important the benefits of the Internet be widespread. "We must take steps now so that in the Internet Century, no children are left behind," Case said.

"[PowerUP's] goal is not only to provide young people with access to computers and the Internet, but also to leverage technology's power and the potential of the online medium to help young people develop character and competence," he said.

Grants from the Waitt Family Foundation and AOL Foundation will buy 50,000 computers and 100,000 free AOL accounts. The initiative also will give $5 million in grants to community and school-based centers.

-- Dan Caterinicchia

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N.Y. Education Officials Seek $12 Million for Virtual Library

New York education officials have asked the state for $12 million to launch a statewide virtual library that would be accessible via an e-library card.

New York's Education commissioner, Richard Mills, and the Board of Regents want to launch the New York Online Virtual Electronic Library (NOVEL), following the lead of California, Kentucky and Michigan, which already have statewide systems. The e-library card and NOVEL are the regents' priorities for the 2000 legislative budget session.

"No matter where you are or who you are, the e-library card and NOVEL would allow access to catalogs, digitized collections of photographs, images, maps, manuscripts, encyclopedias, journals and other proprietary databases licensed on a statewide basis for free," Mills said.

The state's local libraries will be linked to the virtual system, and people also will be able to connect from home or the office through a password-protected account.

-- Dan Caterinicchia

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North Carolina Throws Weight Behind E-Commerce

North Carolina aims to puts its agencies on a fast track to deliver Internet-based services by developing a multipronged strategy that incorporates security, World Wide Web portals and other components of electronic commerce.

The e-commerce infrastructure, which will be rolled out during in the next year, was designed to address the ease and speed of access to government services, said North Carolina chief information officer Rick Webb, speaking here at the National Association of State Information Resource Executives 1999 annual conference.

Webb said he believes agencies will move more quickly to develop those applications for citizens and businesses if they do not have to develop the technical framework on their own.

"We really want to begin to do this in a planned process so people can begin to see and understand how electronic commerce can improve the operations of government," Webb said.

A key component of the new framework is the development of Web portals serving individual citizens, businesses and state employees. The portals will provide centralized points of entry where customers can access all online government services available to them.

Individual agencies will be able to plug their specific applications into the central portals while taking advantage of a common set of services the state will provide.

These services include the following:

* A personalization capability so customers can design a Web page that includes just the services they need.

* Public-key infrastructure-based security, to protect transactions from tampering and ensure confidentiality.

* Support for credit card processing.

* Support for electronic forms, including digital signatures so the digital documents can be legally binding.

* Use of electronic data interchange for defining the data format of digital transactions, such as purchase orders and invoices.

* Reusable code for common functions such as cataloging and billing.

-- John Stein Monroe

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