State Internet Use Evolving

States are starting to think of the web as more than just a way to disseminate information

P> Imagine renewing your driver's license over the Internet instead of waiting endlessly in long lines. Or filing taxes or applying for a day-care license.

"The potential [Internet uses] are unlimited," said William Bradley, network general manager for the Access Indiana Information Network. One of the main reasons all the states have Internet sites is that they offer a way to interact with citizens at a level and frequency that otherwise would be difficult to achieve. Texas became the first state to have a World Wide Web presence in November 1993. Today, the National Association of State Information Resource Executives has links to 1,774 state pages on its StateSearch site.

Citizens are crying out for more information. They want additional links to cities, counties, schools and businesses, said John Eckerle, the person responsible for maintaining Idaho's official Web site. Many states say that legislative information is the most frequently accessed part of their sites.

But figuring out what people want is not always easy. "It's a learning process -- you're always modifying and revising your site," said Mike Layton, chairman of the World Wide Web Technical Administrator's Group for Utah.

Most states disseminate information on the Web. Some respond to citizen requests to take their sites to the next level by offering real-time changes in information, as well as conducting transactions or collecting information.

The Ohio legislature is even considering a bill that would allow businesses to submit information required by the state on a single electronic form available over the Internet. However, it's still a long way off. Most efforts now are much smaller in scale.

Idaho's Department of Transportation is working on a page that would carry real-time updates of road conditions in hazardous winter conditions. The state's Public Utilities Commission is setting up a way to issue temporary permits to truck drivers acting as common carriers.

Indiana's Bureau of Motor Vehicles plans to let state residents renew automobile and truck registrations over the Web. The state is also thinking about using the Internet to collect tax form submissions and applications for waste handling licenses, even child-care licenses.

But all this can't be accomplished without money. Funding is one of the two biggest problems facing state-sponsored sites, said Eckerle. The other challenge is organizing the information.

Eckerle must plan budgets 18 months in advance, making it difficult to plan for rapid changes in Internet technology.

There also is the danger that the state legislature will cut Internet appropriations. To avoid cuts, Indiana has a contractor that manages the state's Internet presence.

Government grants provide funding for the first two years. After that, the organization should be self-sufficient, said Bradley. Kansas and Nebraska have similar public-private partnership arrangements.

If a state partners with a private company to develop its Internet presence, it can save money, said Sam Somerhalder, general manager of Nebrask@ Online and president of Nebraska Interactive Inc., the company behind the site.

Individual agencies often maintain independent sites, which means they must purchase hardware and software. If a state contracts with a private entity, that organization buys and maintains the equipment.

Additionally, if search or access fees are charged, the state and the company split the revenue. Fees are not charged just because the information is on-line; but they would apply to paper transactions.

If a state plans to put public information on-line and charge for it, it should make sure it has legislation that stipulates what records can be accessed, by whom and how much can be charged, Somerhalder advised.

Otherwise, the state Web masters may find more than just positive comments lobbed at them. To view NASIRE's StateSearch site, which offers links to most state pages, visit http://www.state.ky.us/nasire/NASIREhome.html.


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