Sarasota County, Florida sets the standard for municipal networking collaboration

Published 14 September 2006

Nearly each of America’s 10,000 cities and counties buys its own networking systems, leading to gross waste and inefficiency; in Sarasota County, planners work within and without to share broadband and IT staff; big benefit seen for underfunded public schools, data storage facilities

America’s decentralized federal system has many advantages beyond mere tradition. States and cities act as laboratories of new ideas that may eventually work on the federal level. But, as in the case of emergency radio interoperability, inefficiencies and redundancies are a glaring drawback. Take e-mail as an example. Each of America’s 10,000 cities and counties has its own unique system, with taxpayers paying for software licenses, hardware, and IT professionals to control it all. Total cost: $100 million a year, with some municipalities paying more than $100,000 a year just for email services. As cities are not in business competition, the time has come, some say, for public sector collaboration.

Sarasota County, Florida provides a good example of how municipalities can bind together to leverage computing resources. Concerned that hurricanes could wipe out any one or all of the region’s data storage and comunications systems, the county joined the Florida Disaster Recovery Collaborative, “in which communities work together to leverage computer and network capacity, providing each partner with quick recovery of critical applications.” The intent was to create a rolling recovery capability that would allow one community to recover its systems at any other site in the collaborative. The county also took a hard look at the local school systems. As one would expect, it found several, separate networks struggling with insufficient capacity and expensive line architecture. All the while, the county was running high-capacity fiber-optic networking right through the same areas. By sharing its excess bandwidth, the county could provide city school districts better internet service at a much lower cost.

-read more in Bob Hanson’s Government Technology discussion