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State Web site rank falls from 2 to 18

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State Web site rank falls from 2 to 18

State Web site rank falls from 2 to 18

Maine's ranking for its Web site and its use of the Internet to help its residents has plummeted from second best in the nation to 18th. The principal reason, the annual study indicates, is that Maine charges for use of some of its Web-based services and most states do not.

"Most places have resisted going to user fees because it is a barrier to system usage," professor Darrell West of Brown University said. "Maine also lost points in our rating system for creating in essence what is a premium section of the Web site where people must pay to get additional information they may want."

The ranking awards points for such things as the number of publications available on the Web site, but gives negative points for such things as user fees to access information. West said Maine did very well in some areas, but dropped in the ratings because of fees charged to access parts of the Web site and for fees imposed on various transactions.

"States lose points [in the ranking] when they charge the public for transactions," West said. "The belief is that states are saving money by having transactions done online and they should not be charging for something that saves the state."

West said Maine is in the minority of states that have contracted with the private sector to operate the state government Web site. He said most states operate their Web sites with state staff and facilities, and that could be part of the reason Maine charges more fees than many other states.

The state's chief information officer, Richard Thompson, defended the way the state operates its "e-portal" to the world.

"I am chair of the Informe Board," he said." Maine went this route several years ago because we could not afford to pay for the expensive infrastructure that is needed."

Thompson said Informe, short for Information Resource of Maine, the name of the company that operates the state Web site, is allowed to charge only for "added value" it provides to the otherwise public information. An example would be combining public databases from different state agencies into a new database.

But he acknowledged there are many transaction fees charged on the Web site.

"We do charge for convenience transactions, but no more than was already being charged," he said.

Thompson said an example of such a transaction would be the additional fee charged to renew a license plate online. It is the same as that charged for the convenience of renewing the license plate at the town or city office.

But West said the state should be saving money by having the transaction done online instead of by a clerk typing information into a computer at a state office. He said many states have realized significant savings from such electronic transactions.

"It sounds to me like Maine is more concerned about raising money from its Web site," he said

The most-used Web site in Maine state government is the sex offender Web site in the Department of Public Safety. It averages more than 750,000 hits a month, but it charges fees for access to any information beyond the limited information on the public Web site.

"This is a concern our committee has been looking into," said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, co-chair of the Legislature's Criminal Justice Committee. "Many of us feel the public should have access to all of this information as a matter of public safety without paying to get it."

Diamond said his panel has heard testimony that while there is tremendous public interest in the sex offender Web site, there is little use of the section with the additional fees attached. It costs $25 for access to additional sex offender information. A person who subscribes to Informe, which costs $75 a year, would pay $15 for that same access.

West said Maine also did not do well in the use of audio and video. He said other states use their Web sites to allow the public to listen to or view proceedings of regulatory agencies and for training programs and information on state government.

"I am not sure what they looked at," Thompson said. "The Legislature streams both sessions and public hearings on the Web. And in the executive branch we have the Public Utilities Commission that has been doing it for a long time."

West said Maine also did not do well in providing information in different languages. He said other states are providing reports and information on their Web sites in several languages.

"We have been talking about that, but no, we don't have a plan to address that yet," Thompson said. "I look on this report as a way for us to do better. We are looking at the criticisms, and where they are fair, I think we will try to address them."

Post Sat 26 Aug, 2006 5:25 pm 
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