Technology Is Helping To Save Lives In The Northern California Fires

Text alerts, Twitter, Nextdoor — California local governments are using any means necessary to alert people early about coming fires.

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A truck burned by the recent fires in Northern California.

The fires in Northern California have already burned thousands of acres and forced residents from their homes, but thankfully, the death toll has been relatively low. That’s because the counties around San Francisco have gotten savvier about using technology to alert people to leave their homes before the danger gets too close.

According to one article, the number of people who signed up to receive alerts in Sonoma County has jumped from 20,000 to 275,000. Governments are taking advantage of everything from Twitter to artificial intelligence to better reach people who need to evacuate. You can read more about the state’s efforts in this article on Xconomy.

Alexa, When Is Garbage Day?

Amazon’s Alexa technology is helping residents get the information they need from local governments.

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Government technology is notorious for being old fashioned and out of date. Just go into any local municipal office and gaze in wonder at the green-screened desktop computers straight out of the 1990s.

But some towns are zooming into the future. Raleigh, N.C., has turned to Amazon’s Alexa to help citizens get answers to common questions about zoning, police and fire and even traffic conditions. You can read more about how the AI future is coming to local government here.

Our Voting Machines Are Older Than The Oldest iPhones

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Remember the hanging chads?

Those paper remnants, emblematic of the outdated voting systems that led to the Great Recount Event of 2000, prompted a new wave of spending on voting technology. Two years after the election, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which forced states to adopt new standards for voting systems. States bought lots of new voting machines. The nation moved on to new worries.

Guess what? It isn’t 2002 anymore. More than half of the voting machines used in the 2016 elections were purchased between 2002 and 2006, which — as Government Technology points out — makes them older than the oldest iPhones. And 5 percent of the machines were even older than that.

We toss our iPhones after just a couple of years, but it’s perfectly OK to keep using antiquated voting machines? Leaders in the push to modernize our democracy certainly beg to differ.

Government Agencies Move Slowly, Startups Are Here To Help

A San Francisco-based program is pairing startups with government agencies to help solve real-world problems.

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Dealing with any government agency can be extremely frustrating. Departments are usually using technology straight out of 1990s which means everything takes twice as long as it needs to.

Since 2014, San Francisco has been trying to build better government through the Startup in Residence Program (STiR) which pairs startups with civic agencies to solve real-world problems. Now the program has expanded to 11 other cities and is looking to grow to 100 cities in the near future.

At the most recent demo day, startups showed off new technology to help better direct 311 calls, organize engaged citizens and use artificial intelligence to better communicate through chatbots.

You can read more about the STiR demo day here.

Want 5G? Form Government Tech Partnerships

In order to move to the next level of cell phone service, governments are going to have to work with companies to build out 5G networks.

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To stay competitive globally, the U.S. needs to embrace 5G. The next level of cell phone service is going to move data 10 times faster and handle 100 times the capacity of the current network — unleashing serious innovation.

But to get there, governments need to start partnering with private companies to build these dense networks. That’s happening today in a surprising place: Sacramento. Check out this story to read more about how the city partnered with Verizon to build out a new network.

 

Will California Amend The Constitution To Allow Sports Betting?

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that states should be allowed to legalize betting on major sports such as baseball, football and basketball. Kyle Kirkland, of the California Gaming Association, argues that sports betting in the state could be a boon in terms of job creation and tax revenue. Others worry that legalized betting will encourage teams to throw games like we saw with the Chicago White Sox almost 100 years ago.

If sports betting is going to become an industry in California, the legislature will have to amend the state constitution. Merced Assemblyman Adam Gray says he is working on an amendment but it’s unlikely anything will happen this year. For more on California’s move to allow spots gambling read this, this and this.

L.A. Loves That Elon Musk Scent. But Why No Love For High Speed Rail?

High speed rail should be getting the fast track treatment.

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The L.A. City Council is falling all over itself to speed Elon Musk’s plan to bore giant tunnels under the city. There’s no question the new tech is cool. Just look at this:

But it’s totally untested and drilling in our seismic neighborhoods is a little disconcerting.

Meanwhile, high speed rail, a tried and true technology that could help speed commuters between L.A. and San Francisco cutting down on car and airplane trips, is languishing at the federal level. Read more here.

Unblocking 5G: New FCC Rules Make it Easier to Build Fast Networks

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By Kish Rajan

The Federal Communications Commission last week voted to kick-start 5G wireless networks in the United States by exempting them from some reviews that hinder installation.

It’s about time.

So far, the U.S. lags far behind the world leader — China — at getting 5G networks up and running. “There is a worldwide race to lead in 5G, and other nations are poised to win,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel acknowledged in January. It’s an embarrassing place for the country that invented the internet. But more than that, our hesitancy to streamline the process for installing vital infrastructure is costing us money, jobs and security.

Today, we’re coasting along on 4G long-term evolution (LTE) networks. Experts warned as far back as 2011 that 4G would be maxed out within four years because data demand was growing too fast to be accommodated by 4G bandwidth. And it’s not slowing. In the U.S., data usage will be seven times greater in 2021 than it was in 2016. By 2020, more than 50 billion devices and 212 billion sensors will be connected to wireless networks. All this data is making 4G networks crowded, slow and spotty.

The annoying buffering while streaming video, the random dead zones and the snail-like pace of sending photos over text can be attributed to our inefficient and overwhelmed 4G networks. The more people using it, the slower it goes, which is why it’s often difficult to do anything on your phone in Los Angeles unless you’re on Wi-Fi.

5G networks are much more efficient at using spectrum. They’ll increase capacity 100 times or more over 4G and be able to move data at least 10 times faster, allowing for all sorts of real-time applications. And that’s just the beginning. 5G is vital to improved safety, reliability and economic development.

According to a 2017 Accenture report, smart cities and Internet of Things (IoT) improvements led by 5G capabilities have the potential to create $160 billion in benefits and savings. Then there’s the economic boost of building 5G networks. Accenture predicts that 5G could result in $275 billion in investments, create 3 million new jobs nationally and grow GDP by $500 billion.

Small cells can be easier and cheaper to install than traditional cell towers, but they rely on density to provide fast, reliable data service. A college football stadium, for example, needs 40 to 60 cells to provide full coverage. Unfortunately, building a 5G network isn’t as easy as it should be because there’s no federal standard. That means each state and municipality has its own series of complicated, confusing and contradictory rules covering installation.

Industry is prepared to deploy hundreds of thousands of small cells on utility poles throughout the country. But it can take as long as a year, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to navigate through cumbersome local and state regulations designed to govern 200-foot cell towers. These unobtrusive small cell solutions simply should not be compared to traditional cell towers.

The FCC ruling is a good start, as it will eliminate some of the repetitive and unnecessary review processes. In fact, Accenture estimates it will save $1.6 billion. But states need to get on board, too. It’s in their own best interests and those of their constituents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of American households now are cellphone only, which means they rely entirely on wireless networks for service. That explains why 80 percent of 911 calls are mobile. 5G networks will be a boon to first responders — and the people seeking help.

In California, despite being the national epicenter of innovation, we’re lagging behind. Last year a bill that would have helped the 5G industry was stopped due to concerns from local municipalities about installation of the cells. While local governments’ concerns most certainly need to be addressed, we can’t allow the 5G conversion to become mired in red tape.

It’s time for California to embrace 5G technology. As the world’s sixth-largest economy, California cannot simply keep pace with the rest of the country; it must instead set the national and global example. Let’s get to work.

Kish Rajan is chief evangelist for CALinnovates.

How SB 649 Will Help Keep California Competitive

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CALinnovates’ Kish Rajan Talks About How SB 649 Will Help Keep California Competitive

A bill currently making its way through the state Senate would make it easier for California to move to a 5G network. But it has stoked blowback from local municipalities that fear giving up any control over where phone companies can place the small cell antennas necessary for making 5G a reality.

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