Every once in a while you come across a technology that soon has you wondering how you ever got along without it. Cell phones and geographic positioning systems come to mind. For local government, video streaming is one of those technologies. Frederick County, Md., has had video streaming for less than two years, and there’s no going back.
The 2006 elections brought a new lineup of commissioners to the county. Open government was a guiding theme of their strategic plan. Specifically, they sought a universal capability for citizens to watch government meetings so that they could better understand and participate in their government.
In 2007, the county began video streaming all commissioners’ meetings along with other meetings and special programming developed to highlight county services. This service also provides on-demand replay of each video for up to a year. Our citizens, employees and the local press love it. No longer do they need to subscribe to cable television or take time off from work to come to a meeting to learn about topics of interest. County staff no longer needed to copy DVDs (and before that, VHS tapes) for citizens interested in reviewing a meeting. We’ve also seen more accurate reporting of government activities by the local press, for better or worse.
Timing is often critical in technology implementation. Frederick County was far from being the first local government to implement video streaming. We were concerned about Internet bandwidth and support issues as well as cost. Fortunately, as the demand for video streaming grew throughout the country, hosted solutions focusing on local government began to emerge.
We partnered with service provider Granicus to provide video streaming for Frederick County. With their expertise, we were able to implement video streaming in just a few months and address all our concerns. Granicus also provided features that gave viewers access to meeting agendas and supporting documentation, as well as RSS feeds, podcast technology and, more recently, the ability for viewers to post county videos on social networking sites.
All we needed to add was a server and local storage so county staff wouldn’t have to rely on our Internet connection to view or replay the meeting footage. We pay a fixed annual price of less than $20,000 based on our population and the storage volume we’d consume. By comparison, we would have incurred significant development, infrastructure and bandwidth costs to replicate the environment the service provider offers, if that were even possible. We could probably just broadcast live and archive content at a lower cost, but being able to have all the supporting documentation, features and support makes it worth it.
Video streaming is now a mission-critical service. The help desk rings off the hook if a rare posting delay or service issue emerges. It is also essential to county employees and directors who must often respond to live discussion topics or review meetings they were unable to attend.
Open government is vital to good government in a democracy. Convenience is a large part of being truly open and transparent. Video streaming provides timely, convenient and accurate access to the workings of local government. Citizens experience the ease of video creation and viewing in their daily lives with video captured on cell phones and uploaded to YouTube. It’s not too much for them to expect the same from their local government.