In Howard County, there’s no need to pay for a wireless internet portal or try to scam your neighbor’s signal. The nearest library or government building is ready to connect you; all are equipped for wireless users.
It’s that type of forward thinking that earned Howard County the rank of ninth “most digital county” in the nation, according to the Center for Digital Government, a research institute near Sacramento, CA.
The center this month released its Digital Counties Survey in partnership with the National Association of Counties, an organization representing counties at the federal level, headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The “most digital” award-winners were selected based on measurable results, monetary savings or benefit, innovation, impact and collaboration with other jurisdictions, according to Janet Grenslitt, director of surveys and awards at the center.
In part, Howard County was recognized for spearheading a statewide technological initiative, said Grenslitt.
Across Maryland, 1,300 miles of cables are being installed to create a statewide broadband network. The network, which includes every county in Maryland, started with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman’s administration, which proposed a cross-jurisdictional project using federal funds.
“The project [will] connect thousands of community anchor institutions across the state, including public schools, libraries, public safety agencies, and community colleges, through increased broadband speeds,” said Kevin Enright, spokesman for Howard County, in a press release.
In addition to saving local governments $28 million through streamlined service and providing better communication across jurisdictions, “it is anticipated that the [broadband initiative] will save or create over 1,700 jobs,” said Grenslitt.
The broadband project was one of many reasons Grenslitt said Howard County’s government was among the “most digital” in the nation. She noted the following technological initiatives it has undertaken as well:
- Publishing capital and operating budgets online and in tablet/iPad format
- Opening a digital planetarium at the in Columbia
- Offering wireless Internet in county government buildings, with plans to expand access to community and senior centers
- Digitizing workflow in the Department of Planning and Zoning by accepting development plans electronically
- Receiving a grant for a “dashboard” that will provide county’s electrical usage data online
“Focusing on new technology has helped us improve our delivery of services to residents, keep the community informed and maintain an environment of transparency,” said Ira Levy, Howard County’s chief information officer, in a press release issued July 19.
Ulman added that the government’s strides were in keeping with the population it serves. “Our residents are very educated and tech savvy, and I am proud to say that Howard County government is, too,” said Ulman.
Howard County was the ninth most digital county for its size (250,000 to 499,999). The winner in that category was Washoe County, NV.
In general, Maryland was all over the “most digital counties” list. In the 500,000-and-up population category, Montgomery County came in third, Prince George’s was sixth and Anne Arundel was tenth. In the under 150,000 population category, Charles County was sixth.