Tag Archives: seattle

CenturyLink to Bring Gigabit Broadband to Seattle

Gig Map Click to see moreIn a remarkable announcement today, CenturyLink, formerly known as “the telephone company”, says it will bring gigabit Internet service via a fiber-to-the-home network to Seattle.

Seattle has been left at the altar of fiber-to-the-home high-speed Internet twice before — first byGoogle and then by Gigabit Squared, which isnow being sued by the City of Seattle over their breakup.

Is the third time the charm? Can Seattle Mayor Ed Murray deliver on the gigabit promise that his two predecessors, Mike McGinn and Greg Nickels, could not? Will Seattle actually see serious competition to the price-gouging tactics of the cable monopolies?

A press conference on Tuesday, scheduled 9:15 a.m. at Seattle City Hall, should tell us more.

First, a dose of reality.

(Read the rest of the post at Crosscut.)

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Filed under broadband, fiber, internet

– Why Don’t Cops just use Cell Phones?

The National Plan for Public Safety - click to see more

The National Plan

Police officers and firefighters carry $5000 radios.  Local and state governments spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build public safety radio networks.  Yet, today, cell phone networks seem to be everywhere, most people carry a mobile phone and many of us think paying $199 for an iPhone is expensive.  

Why can’t cops and firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMT) use cell phones like everyone else?   A Washington State legislator from Seattle recently public argued for this approach in his blog.  And, at first, this appears to be a simple way for governments to save a lot of taxpayer dollars.

Here are a few reasons public safety officers need their own dedicated networks:

  1. Priority.  Cellular networks do not prioritize their users or traffic.   A teenager’s cell phone has the same priority as a cell phone used by a police officer or, for that matter, the BlackBerry used by President Obama.  We’ve all experienced “no circuits available” or “network busy” when using a cell phone.  When I’m being assaulted or have been injured in an automobile accident or even have had my house burglarized, the last thing I want is to have the network be “busy” so a police officer or EMT couldn’t be dispatched.   Public safety needs dedicated frequencies where police officer sand firefighters have priority and even, perhaps, exclusive rights to for use, without calls being clogged by the public.
  2. Reliability.  Seattle’s public safety radio network, part of the larger King County-wide 800 megahertz public safety radio network, handles more than 60,000 police, fire  and emergency medical calls every day.  It operated last year with 99.9994% reliability – that’s about 189 seconds of downtime out of more the than 31 million seconds which composed the year 2009. On the average, only about five out of the 60,000 calls were delayed for any reason, and even then the average delay was about two seconds.  What cell phone network has that kind of reliability?   How many times have you experienced “no service” or “call dropped” with your cell phone?   Do we want firefighters who are reviving a heart attack victim and talking to the emergency room on the radio to all-of-a-sudden have their call dropped?  Or should police officers lose service when drunk drivers clog the roads and bars are closing at 2:00 AM because a cell phone company decides to do maintenance because “no one uses the network then”?
  3. Disasters.  Even small disasters cause cell phone networks to collapse.   In Seattle, we’ve had swat team actions or car accidents which have shut down a freeway.   Suddenly cell phone service abruptly ceases in that area because EVERYONE is on their phone.  A few years ago a rifleman was loose and shooting people in Tacoma Mall.  Responding police and EMTs had communications because they had dedicated networks and frequencies, but again cell phone networks were overloaded and down.   In a larger disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane (with associated evacuation of large cities), commercial networks will be overloaded or jammed for days by people trying to escape the affected areas. Do we want police and fire departments – or even transportation, electric utilities and public works departments – to be trying to use those same networks while they are are responding to the disaster? I don’t think so.
  4. Talk-around. A key feature of most government-operated networks is something called talk-around or simplex or “walkie-talkie” mode. In this mode, individual radios talk directly to each other, without using a radio or cell tower. This is very important at incident scenes – firefighters commonly use it at the scene of a fire, because the radios will operate at the scene even if there isn’t a tower nearby. But this NEVER a feature of cellular phone networks. If the cell tower is down or out of range, that cell phone in your hands is a useless lump of plastic. But the radios of publicsafety officers still work and will talk to each other even without the tower.
  5. Ruggedness. No firefighter in his/her right mind would fight a fire using a cell phone for communications. The heat, water and ruggedness of the environment would quickly destroy the device. Yet most public safety radios will survive being dropped repeatedly on the ground or being immersed in water for 30 minutes or more. No standard cell phone can survive the rigorous work of firefighting or policing.

Are there problems with the current dedicated public safety networks? Absolutely. The use proprietary technologies, for example “Project 25“. Theoretically all “Project 25” radios work on any “Project 25” radio system. But only a few of those are deployed around the nation. These proprietary technologies are one reason the radios cost up to $5,000 each.

Representative Carlyle, in his blog, proposes that we deploy “Tetra” radios for public safety. While Tetra is common in some parts of the world, it is not used at all in the United States. This is a dangerous proposal, because it means Tetra networks we buy would not work with the equipment used by any other government or telecommunciations carrier anywhere in the United States. If called to respond to a diaster overseas, we could talk to firefighters in Hong Kong or the police in Ireland, however.

Another problem we face is the small market – the total market for public safety is perhaps 10,000,000 radios which are replaced, say, once every 10 years. On the other hand, the cell phone market is huge – 260 million cell phones replaced every two years in the United States alone. The economies of scale means consumers will have a lot more choice, and their cell phones will be relatively cheap.

So is there some way to reduce the sky-high cost of these dedicated public safety networks while at the same time not endangering cops, firefighters, EMTs and the public in general?

Absolutely. The FCC, in its national broadband plan, and the federal Department of Commerce, with its forward-thinking grant program for broadband, are lighting the way for a new public safety network which will be more robust, national in scope, and interoperable. By “interoperable” I mean the new public safety equipment will probably operate almost anywhere in the nation, wether on a dedicated government network or on a commercial cell phone network. Here are some features of the new networks:

  • The FCC and major public safety organizations have called for the new public safety networks to be built using a fourth generation (4G) technology called LTE – long-term evolution. Not coincidently, this is the same technology which will be used by the major cell phone companies Verizon and AT&T when they construct their 4G networks. The commercial networks will operate on different frequencies than the public safety networks, but they will all be built in same general area of the wireless spectrum – the 700 megahertz (MHz) band.
  • Because they are all using the same technology (LTE) and are in a similar slice of radio spectrum (700 MHz) potentially they will all interoperate. That means that public safety officers will use the government networks and frequencies when they are within range, but could “roam” to a commercial network if necessary. So cops and firefighters will have the best of both worlds – coverage from dedicated government networks and coverage from multiple private carriers. The FCC is even considering rules which would require the commercial companies to give public safety priority on the commercial LTE networks.
  • Because everyone – consumers, cops, firefighters and even general government workers such as transporation and utilities – are all using LTE, constructing the networks can be much cheaper. Commercial telecommunications carriers could put government antennas and equipment at their cell sites, and vice-versa. Perhaps the network equipment at the cell site, or even the central switches could be shared as well. Public safety will still be using its own frequencies and have priority, but could share many other network elements.
  • And the radios used by individual public safety officers or placed in police vehicles and fire trucks can be much cheaper as well. Because manufacturers are all making equipment for the same technology – LTE – it could cost just a few hundred dollars. Again, there will be specialized and ruggedized devices for firefighters and others working in punishing environments, but the “innards” – the electronics – will be much less expensive.
  • Next, we have to get all first and second resopnders to use the same or common networks. Here in Washington State, for example, we have multiple overlapping and duplicate networks. City and County police and fire in the region have one network, each electric utility (e.g. Seattle City Light) have another network. Transportation departments have their own networks (e.g. Seattle Transportation and Washington State Transportation each have their own separate network). The Washington State Patrol has its own separate network. The State Department of Natural Resources has its own network. Fish and Wildlife has its own network. And federal government agencies (FBI, cutoms and immigration) have their own networks. This is patently stupid and expensive. As we build these new fourth generation LTE networks, we need to build a single network with lots of sites and a lot of redundancy and hardening to withstand disasters. And everyone – first and second responders from all agencies – should use it.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all the networks will be nationally interoperable. The lack of communciations interoperability was a major finding of the Commission which investigated the September 11th World Trade Center attack. But with these new networks, a Seattle police officer’s 4th generation LTE device will also work on New York City’s LTE network or New Mexico’s :LTE network or on any Verizon or AT&T network anywhere in the nation. As disasters happen anywhere in the United States, and first and second responders are rushed to the scene of the disaster, they can take their communications gear with them and it will work.

The City of Seattle is one of a handful (about 20) forward-thinking governments leading the way to deploy these new networks. Seattle’s public safety LTE network, hopefully launched with a federal stimulus grant, will eventually expand throughout the Puget Sound region and across the State of Washington. The State of Oregon also has authority and a grant request to build an LTE network, and we are working with Oregon to make sure our networks work with each other seamlessly.

Is all of this a pipe dream? I don’t think so. A number of public and private companies, governments and telecommunciations carriers and equipment manufacturers are working together to realize it. Many of them are in the Public Safety Alliance. In the Federal government, the FCC is working with the National Institute of Standards and the Departments of Commerce and Homeland security are providing grant funding. It will take a lot of work and many years to realize this network.

But when it is finished, we’ll have public safety networks which work to keep us safe, and consumer networks which work to keep us productive and linked to our friends and families. These networks will be separate yet connected. They will be built from common technologies. And they will be less expensive for taxpayers than the networks we have today.


Filed under broadband, disaster, fcc, Fedgov, homecity security, Sept. 11th

– Kids in Uniform in Afghanistan

Captain Aaron Bert - Seattle Parks Employee and Soldier

Captain Aaron Bert - Seattle Parks Employee and Soldier

Original Post:  3 June 2008
The purpose of this blog – blog.chiefseattlegeek.com – is to render some ideas and opinions about the role of information technology and a chief information officer in a municipal government.   That’s not stated anywhere, yet, I guess, because the blog is still an experiment for me. 
Any senior government official, by definition, is involved in politics.   Politics in the honorable, “can do” sense – government is all about community – people coming together, and, together, doing what they cannot do individually or in private business – providing water, parks, policing, firefighting.  For this we need elected officials, legislatures, laws and Chief Executives.  And politics.  In the honorable sense.
I have a friend, Aaron Bert, who works at the City of Seattle who is on his second deployment to the Middle East.  In his first deployment, he was activated as a Captain in the Washington National Guard and sent to Iraq for over a year.  Leaving two kids and, ultimately, a marriage behind.   Now he’s in the Army Reserve and in Afghanistan.  He should be here in Seattle, managing capital projects for our Parks Department. 
He’s not.  
He writes a blog published in the Seattle Times here, and it is sometimes painful to read.
There is another City of Seattle employee – also an Army Reservist – who is a server administrator.   He’s also been notified that his unit will be activated – again – for deployment to the Middle East.   The first time it was Iraq, and this time to Kuwait.  At least initially.    He also leaves two kids and his wife here to worry until he returns.
I spent 22 years in the Army and Army Reserve.  I’ve been out for more than 10 years, and my military retirement will kick in this year (and THAT tells you how hold I am).   I’m proud of that time – that I did more to earn my citizenship than just pay taxes.
But I feel sorry for these two “kids” – young men in their thirties, really not kids – and their kids, who will be without fathers for the next year or more.
Read Aaron’s blog.
And, while you are at it, buy some shoes for Afghani kids.

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Filed under people, Seattle Parks, war

– Google: Doing Evil?

Advertising and Consumerism may be evil

Google: Advertising and Consumerism may be evil

Google’s corporate ethics includes “do no evil”.   Well, not exactly.  Technically their corporate philosophy includes ten things “Google has found to be true” and number six is “You can make money without doing evil”.
A noble piece of philosophy.
Not really true.
Ultimately, the Internet boom and the boom in startup web companies, like the newspaper and magazine industries before them, is fueled by advertising (puns intended).   And most advertising is fundamentally evil because it encourages consumption.  Lots and lots of consumption.   Buy buy buy.
And most buying is bad for individual human beings, for developed societies and for the planet.
Sure – we need food and shelter and a few other basics.  Pretty low on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy.   In fact, plastic bags, the toys you get in kids fast-food meals, GPS locator units, wine cellar machines, two cell phones and one automobile per person probably don’t rate a place in Maslow’s hierarchy at all (maybe – and it is a stretch – “self esteem”?).  Such consumption consumes vast amounts of our planet’s resources, contributing to climate change through transportation and processing of all the raw materials, not to mention the use of the materials themselves.   All that petroleum use makes us more dependent upon Middle East oil, and therefore more embroiled in the politics of that region.
Ergo – for the most part, the consumption caused by advertising is “doing evil”.
Sorry, GoogleGuys.
See next entry “Second Life” from May 30th for a fun way to consume without consuming.

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Filed under consumerism, google

– Second Life? No – Get a Life!

Seattle's Space Needle in Second Life

Seattle's Space Needle in Second Life

Original post:   31 May 2008
The Governing Magazine “Managing Technology” conference just concluded here in Seattle today, May 29th, 2008.
Among many other topics, we discussed the phenomenon of “Second Life” and similar virtual reality web-based universes. I learned that some governments have established a presence in “Second Life”, including the State of Missouri, which uses their Second Life presence to recruit Information Technology professionals. It’s also been widely reported that the government of Sweden and the City of Boston have second life embassies or city halls.
My initial reaction to governments’ presence in “Second Life”. Let’s just say I’m … ah … not supportive. Those government officials messing around creating “Second Lives” on government time need to … ah … “get a life”. The folks from Missouri said their second life presence only cost $112, but that cannot count all the employee time and staff time spent to create the presence.
People demand a lot from their governments – parks, utilities, cops and firefighters to name a few. Real “boots on the ground” to address the real issues of medical emergencies, crime, clean streets (or even just “streets”), parks, water and electricity. Given all these demands – and public safety needs, frankly – for government in our First Lives, it seems quite absurd to spend any amount of taxpayer dollars on a virtual life. That’s my initial reaction.
But I do admit to being “fair and warmer” on the concept of Second Life in general.
My Mayor – Greg Nickels – has been a national and world leader combating Global Warming (no puns intended). In his speech at the Governing conference on Thursday, May 28th, he talked about excessive and conspicuous consumption, and such consumption’s insidious side effects.
This consumption ranges from buying plastic-bottled water to using plastic or paper bags to six block automobile trips to the grocery store to needless purchases of clothes, toys, and all variety of stuff – much of it made from plastic which, in turn, is made from precious oil.
My theory is that much of this consumption is impulse driven – we see a bottle of water at the 7-11 or we see an advertisement for a new “thing” in the newspaper or in a store check-out line and we impulsively buy it, whether we need it or not.
Down with plastic bottles!  Click to see what Seattle is doing.But, suppose we indulged our “conspicuous consumption” by buying stuff in Second Life and outfitting our virtual second lives with all those trappings of conspicuous consumption? We satisfy our impulse and craving to buy stuff.
Then we show our “stuff” off to our fellow second life avatars. And we live frugally and wisely in our First Lives. Seems like a great trade-off to me.
So, Second Life on the taxpayer dime for a government presence?  Naw, I don’t think so.
Second Life in your personal life to satisfy those consumptive urges?  Absolutely.


Filed under internet, web 2.0

– Internet Pin-up Girls (and Guys)

Internet  Filtering for Government - click for more

Internet Filtering for Government - click for more

Original post: 31 May 2008
First, let me congratulate Mark Stencel, who will be filling at least a portion of Peter Harkness’ shoes as Peter retires from his position as Editor and Publisher of Governing Magazine.  Mark, long-time technology columnist for Governing and governing.com, is a terrific guy with great insight into the often uneasy marriage between government and technology.
In Mark’s recent column, “At Work on the Web” he argues for the reduction or removal of Internet filtering in government agencies. While his reasons are noble, with roots in trust of workers and the fundamental democracy of the web, the realities of working in government agencies give me a different view.
Let me first say that almost all the employees I know at the City of Seattle are ethical, diligent, and hard-working. I see that diligence, that dedication, every day.
But everyone (government employee or not) has their weakness. Some folks are addicted to alcohol, others to shopping, many to cigarettes/smoke breaks and many others to surfing the Internet or YouTube. They can’t help themselves from surfing or bidding on e-bay or browsing MySpace for their friends.
Pin-up girls. The very phrase evokes images from World War II barracks. In City of Seattle call centers in the 1970s, we had problems with pin-up girls decorating cubicles. Then it was pin-up guys. Naked pin-up guys. In guy’s cubicles. We ended up banning all such photos from the workplace and no one would think of allowing them back in today.
Yet I’ve had workers visiting dating sites, and leaving images of half-clothed people on the computer screen scandalizing a co-worker. I’ve seen workers leaving their City e-mail address for craigslist and e-bay sales. I know of employees surfing Internet sex sites. We “flatten” at least five computers (out of 10,000) a week.   (This is a process also known as “re-imaging” or wiping a desktop computer clean and re-installing all programs.)   Why?  Because they became infected with malware from visiting non-business websites.
In every single case cited above, the City employee was a good employee. Hard working and well-intentioned. Someone I’d be proud to call a friend. But they either didn’t know the rules or had to indulge a low-level addiction to the Internet.
One department director tells me how much he loves the “websense” (Internet filtering software) installation in his department because it reduces the number of loudermill hearings he conducts, disciplining workers for non-business use of City computers. Websense helps keep honest people honest.
And hard-working City employees chafe when they see co-workers wasting time “surfing”. My experience is that morale among the top-performing City workers improves when they see low-performing employees unable to indulge their Internet addictions and/or disciplined for it.
Most City government workers earn a living wage. They work 40 hours a week, and many get overtime for hours beyond that. They have both the ability to buy a personal computer for home and the time to indulge themselves in the cyberworld at home. Public employees are held to a higher standard than workers in any other industry. When there’s a disaster, private employers shut down and their employees go home. Public employees work 12 hour shifts for the duration of the emergency.
Those same higher standards apply to use of City equipment, and conduct at work day-to-day, and the Internet content filters remind all of us of our duty to meet that standard.
The Pin-up Girls are long gone from the workplace. Let’s not bring them back with the web and Internet.


Filed under internet, people

– Nervous System of a City Government

Nervous System of Government?  Click for more ...

Nervous System of Government? Click for more ...

Original post:  28 May 2008
I often say information technology in any organization is like the human nervous system.
You never think about your nervous system, do you? Gee, how many times have your breathed in the since you started to read this blog entry? Have you made sure that your heart is beating lately? Oh – and that mouse under your left (or right) hand – the one you’ve been using your index finger to click a button and surf to this page (or maybe, at this point, away from it!). Has that index finger responded to your brain? All of this occurs for each of us, of course, thousands and tens of thousands of times a day.
Until it doesn’t … maybe your heart skips a beat. Or perhaps you get a cold and breathing isn’t so easy for a few days. You never notice your nervous system until that really small of amount of time (for most of us) that it DOESN’T WORK!
Information technology is the same – in many senses it is the lifeblood of City government. What is government, except taking care of people – doing for the people of Seattle what they cannot do on their own, easily, as individuals or even in small groups: clean parks, clean water through the tap (and the unclean water down the drain). In the case of Seattle, electricity at the flick of a switch. A cop when you need one and a firefighter or EMT sometimes too.
How do you get all this service? Typically you call on the phone – 911 or 311 or 206-684-3000 (for a cheap thrill, give that one a try). Often, nowadays, you surf the web or send an e-mail. And all of this requires phone systems and computer servers and software.
And how do City employees coordinate their responses to your requests? Well, they use radio systems to dispatch police calls or fires or public utility crews. We use an internal phone system to call each other. We use desktop computers and utility billing systems and work management systems. And e-mail is ubiquitous to the tune of a million messages a week.  Oh … and Peoplesoft Financial Management system to track the cost and a payroll system to keep us paid.
And no one notices, until something doesn’t work.
As my telephone services operations manager – Stephanie Venrick – says, “dial-tone comes from God”.
Naw, it actually comes from the City of Seattle’s Department of Information Technology.
And that dial tone is there, 99.99% of the time.

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Filed under customer service, people, Seattle DoIT