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California government stalls on information highway

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Wednesday, February 27th, 2008 at 6:09 pm in California Legislature, State politics.

California is the epi-center of the high-tech universe, right?

Not so in the Capitol, where the press has almost no access to the Internet. Instead, reporters must rely on sketchy cell connections from inside the thick-walled chambers.

But a colleague of mine, Steve Geissinger, who works for MediaNews and this newspaper in its Sacramento Bureau, said today that a state lawmaker wants to help solve a complaint by reporters about a lack of Internet access in the state Capitol.

The legislator, who asked not to be identified before an agreement is reached, believes that the deficit-plagued state should not bear the cost, or at least the whole expense, of providing adequate Internet access for news gathering.

Geissinger, also the president of the Capitol Correspondents Association of California, said that perhaps the state and the CCAC, through fundraising, could forge a 50-50 deal with California, which lags behind many other states in the vital area.

The following is a letter CCAC sent Capitol officials yesterday:

From: Steve Geissinger, president, Capitol Correspondents Association of CA

To: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Speaker of the Assembly, Mr. President pro Tem of the Senate

Re: Response to reporters’ complaints about lack of Internet access in the Legislature

CCAC Board Member Jim Miller prepared this comprehensive briefing for the Board of Directors of the Legislature-mandated CCAC, which voted to request that the Governor’s Office, the Senate and the Assembly attempt to solve the problem. Any consideration you can give the matter, even in these lean fiscal times, would greatly serve the public interest.

The briefing:

“California is behind many other states in providing wireless access at the state Capitol, according to a review by the Capitol Correspondents Association of California.

At a time when wireless networks are available anywhere from libraries to Laundromats, the Capitol in the home state of Silicon Valley lacks any Wi-Fi hot spots open to the public.

Reporters who want to file from the Capitol have limited options.

They can tap out stories on BlackBerries.

Another approach is paying to use an aircard with a laptop computer. Reporters can check e-mail, file stories, read the wire – anything they would normally do at their desks. An aircard relies on a cell-phone signal. Unfortunately, the Capitol’s thick walls hamper cell-phone signals and users sometimes get kicked off, particularly in committee rooms.

In the Senate, some reporters use the computers on the press desks to write and file a story through Internet e-mail accounts such as gmail or yahoo. There is no way, though, for a reporter to connect to their editorial system.

The same goes for computers in the Assembly press bay, where firewalls also limit Internet use.

Not all California government buildings are Wi-Fi wastelands.

The Cal-EPA building offers free wireless. As part of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Broadband Initiative, the Department of General Services has create pilot Wi-Fi sites at the Zig, the Office of State Printing, the Secretary of State’s Office, the State Museum, and the Library and Courts Building.

There has been talk over the years about also bringing Wi-Fi to the Capitol, but nothing is imminent, said department spokesman Eric Lamoureux.

Cost is a hurdle at a time when the state confronts an estimated $14.5 billion shortfall.

Creating a wireless network in the Capitol would require extensive wiring, signal amplifiers, and access points, said Sohrab Mansourian, the Assembly’s IT expert. “It’s a project,” he said.

Another concern is online security. Officials worry that an open Wi-Fi network in the Capitol would be vulnerable to hacking and other problems.

Many statehouses elsewhere offer at least some level of Internet access to members of the media and other visitors. Here is a sampling of those, based on information provided by members of the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors:

Connecticut: Wireless access is free in the Capitol.

Florida – The press has wireless access in both houses.

Georgia – The state provides wireless in the press areas of the both legislative chambers, and across the street at the press offices.

Hawaii – Wireless access is free in the Capitol’s public areas and in committee rooms.

Kansas – Wi-Fi was added as part of a recent Capitol renovation process. Users must get a user name and a password from the state’s legislative services division.

Louisiana – There is no Wi-Fi. There are several Internet hookups for the press. There also are three computes available for use by the public or press who don’t have assigned offices.

Maine – There has been a Wi-Fi system in the state capitol for six years.

Michigan – There is free Wi-Fi service for the press and the public in both the House and Senate, including in committee rooms across the street from the capitol.

Missouri: The Senate provides free wireless that works well in the chamber and adequately on most of the Senate side of the building. The House charges $150 per year for wireless access on its side of the building, which works well throughout the House side.

Nebraska – The state installed a wireless network in the Capitol last year. The press has access with a password in the (one-house) legislative chamber and all hearing rooms. One area is available for the public.

Oregon – There has been free wireless access since fall 2006.

Pennsylvania – Wi-Fi is available to the public in several hearing and briefing rooms.

South Carolina – The statehouse has free wireless access for everyone.

Texas – The Senate chamber has Wi-Fi, as do the budget committee meeting rooms in both houses. The House lacks wireless, but there are half a dozen ethernet connections for reporters to use.

Virginia – There is Wi-Fi service for both the press and the public.

Washington – The state has provided wireless Internet for free to anyone in or around the Capitol for about two years.

West Virginia – The state charges about $200 a year for Wi-Fi access in the Capitol.”

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  • Renegade GOP

    Oh the poor little journalists are inconvienced by the old fashion ways of the capitol. After all the elevators in the grand old building are still run by operators. They ask what floor sir/madam? If you cannot handle the quaint ways of Ole Sacramento then get an internet blog.

  • Renegade GOP

    Oh the poor little journalists are inconvienced by the old fashion ways of the capitol. After all the elevators in the grand old building are still run by operators. They ask what floor sir/madam? If you cannot handle the quaint ways of Ole Sacramento then get an internet blog.