User fees hurt e-gov

City governments have made dramatic gains in putting information and services online in the past year, but they tend to rely too heavily on user fees and premium services that ultimately may limit user access, according to a report released last month by Brown University.

The authors recommended that government officials consider the ramifications of reliance on for-fee services that might create a "two-class" society of information haves and have-nots.

The study found that 11 percent of city government Web sites charge user fees to execute particular online services, while 2 percent have premium sections requiring payment for entry. Two percent of sites have commercial advertising, and 8 percent have restricted areas requiring user names and passwords to access.

The study was conducted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown in Providence, R.I. The findings are based on an analysis of 1,567 city government Web sites in the 70 largest metropolitan areas.

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