Sunday, May 15, 2005

Stay Informed

You may frequently hear me complain about the lack of timely notification from the local government regarding ...oh, just about anything. During my tenure on the CCAC, it was a frequent occurrence to hear that public opinion was solicited in only a week or two. Needless to say, we missed most of these deadlines. It was simply impossible to get a committee to agree on a position AND agree on its wording in such a short amount of time. Equally irritating was the lack of ability to inform the general public in a timely way.

As an example, when the County Executive proposed his regulations on cable modem service, the Executive's own advisory committee was only informed of the public hearing 10 days before the hearing. This despite it having been scheduled 30 days earlier! And despite it being of obvious interest - to the body which originally motivated its existence! Not surprisingly, there were no members of the community giving testimony except the ones ones that we (or the cable companies) informed ourselves.

So why doesn't the County Executive or the Cable Office do a better job of informing the citizenry? After all, the county has email lists for all sorts of things. For example, I'm on an official county mailing list that tells me when my weekly garbage pickup is delayed! But none for keeping citizens aware about telecomm issues?

When I served on the advisory committee, I went so far as to create a yahoogroup for the purpose. I even got some county officials to agree to be on it. But not long after, I was told that it couldn't be an 'official' forum and that the 'CCAC' had to be removed from its name. And the officials got the word and refused to post to it. Instead, we were told that the county would provide a mailing list that would run on the county servers so they could be in complete control. Well ok, maybe it would be worth giving up the discussion aspect if we could only get timely announcements. But the county never delivered on such a mail list despite our repeated requests.

So how does one stay informed on telecomm issues in Montgomery County? Alas, there is no one best way. Even this blog is not comprehensive (sorry). But I'm trying to help. And as part of that, here are some tips on how to stay informed:
  1. Read broadbandreports. It's one of several places that has forums where people can ask questions and get answers. Unfortunately, it's not well organized (the old "trying to drink from a fire hydrant" analogy comes to mind). Specifically, it lacks any way to just learn things specific to Montgomery County (including relevant national events). But it is nonetheless invaluable for what it does provide.

  2. The Montgomery County Register is a publication that lists many of the significant government actions that the MC Executive. The example I gave earlier regarding the cable modem regulations were listed in the Register and nowhere else. So I consider it essential to be on their mail list. It is available electronically but so ineptly (only part of it, no automated procedure for being notified of updates, and is a month behind) that getting it physically is the only sensible option even though it means you have to physically wade through the booklet every month. To be placed on the mailing list for the MC Register, call the Office Services Coordinator at 240 777-2537. Or write to Executive Regulation Process Manager, office of the County Executive, Executive Office Building, 2nd floor, 101 Monroe St, Rockville, MD 20850 with your name, address, and telephone numbers (home and work).

  3. The Montgomery County Council has an electronic notification service to receive emails about Council agenda and other material. Alas, it doesn't appear to include most of the things that it should include but hopefully my complaints to them about it will pay off eventually.

    I wish I could supply direct links to the various MC web pages but the URLs are clearly not meant to be published. They are machine generated and could change at any time . Thus, I recommend you start at the top of their website and navigate to what you need. For example, to get to the council's e-subscription service, start at and click on County Council, and then look for the e-subscriptions link. For the Register, the only way I've found to get that is by entering Register in the search box. There's no direct link to it.

  4. Some of the County's hearings are televised and archived. Unlike the earlier links, there is a short link for this however it's too tricky to navigate too (in fact, I tried today and couldn't find it! So I emailed the county webmaster for the link. Here it is:
  5. By the way, later this year, the video service will include transcriptions. For now, you have to make them yourself.
  6. The council agendas are made available electronically a week or so before each hearing. You can find this linked from the council web page (ok, I did come up with an official shortcut for the council page). Click on the links labeled with background material and you'll get the briefing notes and other material that the council staff prepare for the council members.

  7. I wasn't intending to provide links other than MC but I will pass on a link for Verizon that I think few people know about and might otherwise be hard to find. If you go to their regular link, you'll get the usual stuff including a page that allows you to check for availability by entering your phone number. However, it doesn't work for people who don't have Verizon phone service. For that you can check by address - but not by any form that's easily findable. The solution is this page: Alternatively, you can call 888-438-3467 and ask.

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