Government that goes with you

Now that citizens can file taxes and renew driver's licenses from the comfort of their home computers, it may seem as if e-government is almost within grasp.

Soon, it literally will be, said Janet Caldow, director of IBM Corp.'s Institute for Electronic Government. A wireless revolution is coming thatis likely to shift e-government from the desktop to the laptop — or even to the pocket — in just a few years.

Here's the future that Caldow foresees in a just-published report, "E-Gov Goes Wireless From Palm to Shining Palm":

* By early 2003, more than half of all Internet connections will be via non-PC devices.

* By 2003, wireless phones will be as common as TV sets.

* Nearly all online businesses will also offer some form of access through a mobile channel by 2003.

* By 2004, the federal government will spend $4.3 billion a year on wireless devices and services.

Wireless devices will enable government employees to access core applications from anywhere.

"You'll literally carry your desk around in your pocket on any one of a number of handheld devices," Caldow writes.

Police, building inspectors and maintenance workers, for example, will have immediate access to vast amounts of information, from case files to building codes to maintenance manuals.

Historically, about one-third of government workers have worked offsite. The wireless revolution could push that figure to about one-half, Caldow said.

On the other side of the e-government equation, wireless access to the Internet will make e-government available to citizens wherever and whenever they want it. "All those people out there with all those wireless devices are also citizens of governments," Caldow said.

For example, Virginia now offers "Lobbyist in a Box," an interactive application that lets citizens, legislators and lobbyists use wireless devices to track bills as they move through the General Assembly.

The wireless revolution will bring Internet access and e-government to places that lack the infrastructure needed today. And it could come close to bridging the digital divide. "Vendors predict $20 disposable mobile phones,"Caldow said.

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