County offers Net service to cities

A Michigan county government that is no stranger to providing citizen services online plans to become an Internet service provider, too.

Located 25 miles north of Detroit, Oakland County will establish itself as an ISP to its 61 municipal governments — if they want it — as part of an $8 million project called OAKNet.

According to John Mahoney, director of the county's Department of Information Technology, a fiber-optic infrastructure has been installed, and his 150-person staff is wiring municipal governments and police and fire departments for access to the network. The project should be completed early next year and is expected to come in under budget, he said.

A county survey this year found that only half the municipalities had access to the Internet. Smaller towns cannot afford the technology infrastructure their governments require, Mahoney said, adding that the new communications infrastructure will provide greater bandwidth and enable people to transmit more data faster. The OAKNet project, which is supported by a mix of federal, state and county funding, was announced in mid-1999, and the idea of the county serving as an ISP grew from that, Mahoney said.

"We are in some uncharted waters but feel we are going in the right direction," he said.

Municipalities will have free access to the Internet under OAKNet, which could save them roughly $10,000 to $12,000 a year in line and access charges and administration costs, Mahoney said.

Mahoney expects most of the municipalities to sign on for Oakland County's service, although they are not obliged to.

"If you're going to give something for free, they're going to want more of it," he said. The municipalities must buy their own hardware and install their own local-area networks.

Within the next two weeks, the county will unveil an e-mail messaging system for most of its 3,000 employees and county officials. Mahoney said the previous internal e-mail system could not be accessed via the Internet, and remote users had to dial in.

In addition to serving its own employees, the county will also provide about 5,000 additional e-mail accounts throughout the county for local municipal officials, Mahoney said. That $285,000 project began about six months ago.

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