By Courtney Sparks, STATE BILL COLORADO
DENVER — State legislatures have long been ahead of the curve on adopting wireless Internet, the Denver-based National Conference on State Legislatures says. But so far as the public is concerned, Colorado isn’t one of them.
Colorado is in a minority of states that provides wireless access at capitols to its staff but not to its citizens, according to a 2008 NCSL survey.
The reason is cost and security, says Michael Adams, director of the legislature’s information services division. A few years ago, the legislature estimated that setting up a separate public wireless network would cost $60,000.
With Colorado’s current budget crisis, it’s unlikely the state will shell out cash now to give laptop users a little more “uptime” down at the Capitol. Current Internet access is minimal: There’s a computer lab in the legislative library with six computers connected to a printer.
Sentiment: We want wireless
But the demand for public Internet is high, according to a State Bill Colorado survey of 68 frequent Capitol participants, including lobbyists, chamber and nonprofit association personnel, law firms and agency personnel.
A staggering 96 percent of respondents — 65 in all — thought Colorado should provide wireless Internet to the public. And a majority, 58 percent, said they’d be willing to pay for it.
A majority of the respondents, 64 percent, said they were already connected to the Internet, typically through a Blackberry, iPhone, Treo or air card. But half said the connectivity through those devices was either “average” or “poor.”
According to NCSL, Midwestern or Western states with legislator and public wireless networks are Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Washington.
“The entire business of the Capitol is now web-based,” one State Bill Colorado survey respondent wrote. “Amendments are posted, calendars, etc. One can listen to hearings on the Internet. It would make sense to have public access to maximize availability of the legislative process to the public.
Another said, “It is a public place where members of the public come to interact with policy-makers. Those interacts could be facilitated and enriched by free wireless.”
As to the price they’d be willing to pay, basic answers included a price range per month, from $10 to $25. Others suggested that wireless access fees should be charged on time usage, not a monthly fee.
It was also suggested that the fee should be for the legislative secession: “Most legislatures charge you per session. Wyoming is $150 but that also includes other services, like having a lobbyist area where you can go to work on your laptop between hearings, etc.”
Other services would be nice
A final survey question asked participants if there were other services should be offered at the Capitol. While only 45 percent said yes, this question received some of the most detailed responses.
Many respondents commented on their inability to bypass security: One said, “I think a security pass through the metal detectors would be great. I am in and out of the Capitol several times a day, and think that a ‘clear card’ concept for lobbyist would be worth pursuing.” Another said, “There is no reason for registered lobbyists to have to go through screening every time we come to the Capitol, sometimes multiple times each day.”
Other suggestions included more restrooms, lockers, access to printers and fax machines, and a Starbucks. One final point lobbyists made was that a lounge or separate meeting place for lobbyists should be offered. They often referenced the Wyoming Capitol Club.
The Capitol Club (see story on Page 17) provides a number of member amenities, including office space, workspace, meeting rooms, wireless access, wireless printing capabilities, bill service, and House/Senate audio capabilities. A similar club in Colorado’s Capitol would serve the purpose of compiling current services into one easily accessible area.