We don't need a "pilot" for legislative videoconferencing

January 30th, 2013

ThinkTech Hawaii

It’s nice to hear that the Legislature is testing a pilot project to allow people on the neighbor islands to testify on bills by way of video conferencing. Civil Beat says the project deserves “championing,” but actually it seems rather like a no-brainer that we should have done years ago.

After all, this technology has been mature, inexpensive and readily available for some time. What’s held us up all this time? More than other states, there is a burdensome air travel barrier between the islands, so video conferencing is natural, if not a requirement, for doing government business in Hawaii.

Why didn’t we think of it sooner? DBEDT tried it in the early Lingle-Liu days (actually it was installed by the Cayetano administration) as a way for DBEDT to communicate with other islands, but the Lingle administration didn’t put any energy or money into it and it quickly fell into disuse. Too bad, it could have been great, even then.

One thing was obvious. There are a number of boards and commissions that meet inter-island. That means their members and staff have to travel among the islands every month, or whatever the interval, at a huge airfare cost to the taxpayers. Do the math – half a dozen or more people traveling every month at nearly $300 a pop - an incredible waste. To say nothing of the time they all spend in the air.

Do we really need to spend that much when we have Skype, iChat, Google, or any number of other commercial systems to help us connect? Even after all this time, we do not avail ourselves of any of these fabulous technologies, and the barriers, costs and delays of travel and a misinterpreted sunshine law continue to undermine any possibility of efficiency.

So we are left with two thoughts: first, in the day of Neil Abercrombie’s new technology initiative, this is low hanging fruit, so why is it a “pilot,” and why do have to “evaluate” it – we should just sail into it right away, like immediately; second, why don’t we adopt it for boards and commissions to avoid the costs of flying people around when they could meet from their desks and smartphones.

In fact, why don’t we use this for all government interisland communications? Industry has been doing that for years, it’s time for our governments, both state and county, to catch up. Let’s just do it.

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