Reporters want net access in state Capitol

Sacramento reporters have been complaining for some time about a lack of Internet access in the state Capitol.

Steve Geissinger — the Capitol Correspondents Association of California‘s president and a reporter for this newspaper — said perhaps the state and the CCAC, through fundraising, could forge a 50-50 deal so the deficit-plagued state doesn’t bear the whole cost of providing adequate Internet access for reporting on things such as — well, the deficit.

At least one lawmaker reportedly agrees and has been talking with the CCAC about a deal, although this person asked not to be identified before an agreement is reached.

Follow us after the jump for a letter the CCAC sent to state officials yesterday, including some comparisons that show just how far the supposedly high-tech Golden State has fallen behind…

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 computers 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.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • cshultz

    I formerly worked in the California capitol as both a staffer and an advocate. I now spend a bunch of time in the Oregon capitol. I can’t tell you what a godsend wi-fi is when you’re waiting around for a bill to come up, when a committee hearing is delayed for some reason, etc. There should be wifi and it should be free. One idea: tack a fee on lobbyist registrations – a few bucks a year should cover it.