e-Texas e-Texassmaller smarter faster governmentDecember, 2000
Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Recommendations of the Texas Comptroller

Chapter 1: Electronic Government

Build the Infrastructure Needed to Allow Multiple Levels of Government to Provide Services via a Single Internet Portal


The Internet has helped popularize a new concept: “seamless” government, which involves the delivery of information and services from all levels of government through a single Web site. Seamless government cannot materialize without the necessary telecommunications infrastructure. The majority of Texas’ local governments lack the resources needed to establish such an infrastructure, and they should be allowed access to certain state Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund grants.


Government services historically have been categorized by the level of government offering them: federal, state or local (city, county and special districts). Under “seamless government,” citizens no longer would need to know which level of government offers which service. Instead, they would log into a single “portal” Web site to find all of the government information and services they need, listed by subject, not by agency. At a minimum, they should be able to select the service they need and be linked to the appropriate Web site for that particular service.

At present, however, most government Web sites either represent individual departments, each with a different look and different navigational tools, or simply provide links to such pages. Both approaches require the citizen or business to know which department to go to for a particular service. Furthermore, such approaches do not eliminate the navigational problems presented by the federal, state, and local layers of government.

Most citizens and businesses are not interested in jurisdictional boundaries between governments, and they would prefer to simply visit one central Web site and select the service, information, or link they need from a directory that combines all three levels of government and all of their agencies and departments.

In a seamless world, an individual renewing a driver’s license or a business owner filing a sales tax report would simply select the desired service from an online directory that would take them to the appropriate government Web page to complete the transaction.[1] Those government services that once required citizens to take time off during working hours and stand in line would be available around the clock, seven days a week. Behind the scenes, various governmental departments would interact to improve customer convenience. For instance, they would share basic information such as the user’s name and address, to reduce the number of times the user has to reenter such data.

The first step toward an all-inclusive, seamless government is ensuring that all governments have the infrastructure needed to access to a telecommunications network.

Texas State Portal Initiative

The 1999 Legislature created the Electronic Government Task Force to assess the feasibility of conducting state and local government transactions through the Internet. The task force’s efforts resulted in a public-private partnership between the staet and KPMG Consulting to build a state Web “portal” site to provide seamless access to all government services. The portal, TexasOnline, ultimately will allow state and local governments to send documents to citizens, receive applications for licenses and permits and various other documents, and pay and receive payments from citizens through various forms of electronic funds transfer.

The task force first organized a demonstration project to test different types of applications. The results of the demonstration project and the task force research were released to the Texas Legislature in November 2000. The report made recommendations for future actions, including any legislative changes needed to allow the state to conduct business online.[2]

The Electronic Government Task Force and KPMG have not, however, developed strategies to include all of Texas’ local governments in the state portal initiative, particularly those that lack a Web presence or an adequate local telecommunications infrastructure.

Without an adequate local telecommunications infrastructure, many local governments will be left out of projects such as the state portal, resulting in a governmental “digital divide.” Unfortunately, many small-to medium-sized local governments simply cannot justify the cost of an isolated telecommunications infrastructure. They need state and federal assistance and guidance on how to effectively collaborate and share the expense of such systems.

Ironically, the lack of a basic telecommunications infrastructure prevents many local governments from applying for federal and state technology-related grants online, which is fast becoming the required method for applications in the digital economy. As of Summer 2000, only 59 of Texas’ 254 counties and 205 of approximately 1,200 incorporated cities had developed an official city or county government Web site.[3] The Electronic Grants Technical Assistance Workgroup is currently working to establish a coordinated electronic grant system to allow for electronic posting, application submittal, and program compliance systems for Texas governmental agencies. The current effort, which is voluntary and unfunded, needs additional resources to achieve its maximum benefit. Another recommendation in this report would direct the Department of Information Resources to coordinate and oversee funding for an expanded effort.

Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund

The 1995 Texas Legislature created the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF) to assist public schools, institutions of higher education, public libraries, and public, nonprofit health care facilities in establishing telecommunications projects such as distance education, telemedicine, and information-sharing programs. Local governments are not eligible for TIF funds. The program, which began in fiscal 1996, will award $1.5 billion in grants over the life of the fund, approximately 10 years.

The TIF is funded from annual assessments on telecommunications utility providers and commercial mobile service providers doing business in Texas. The fund is divided into two accounts: half of the money collected goes to public schools from the public schools account, and the other half is open to all four qualified groups from the qualifying entities account.[4] Among the items and services that can be purchased with TIF funds include equipment, wiring, material, program development, training, and installation.[5] As of the end of fiscal 2000, the TIF had collected $440.7 million for public schools and $328.1 million for the other qualifying entities.

Between fiscal 1996 and 2000, the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board (TIFB) spent a total of $411.7 million from the public schools account. Of this total, $409.5 million was awarded or obligated in grants funding, and $2.1 million was used for quality assurance programs and administrative costs. During the same five-year period, the TIFB spent a total of $191.3 million from the qualifying entities account. Of this total, $187.6 million was awarded or obligated in grants funding and $3.7 million was used for quality assurance programs and administrative costs.[6]

TIFB offers three types of grants: planning, demonstration, and connectivity grants.

Planning grants fund the planning processes by which organizations or groups of organizations develop strategies that solve educational, information-sharing, health care, and connectivity problems by using advanced telecommunication technologies. The outcome of a planning project should be a plan for improved delivery of services and increased citizen access to information resources.

Demonstration grants fund exemplary projects that solve educational, information sharing, health care and connectivity problems by using advanced telecommunications technologies. Such projects must have a high potential to serve as models for others.

Connectivity grants fund projects that provide greater access throughout the state to advanced telecommunications technologies, with an emphasis on connecting to the Internet.[7]

Many Texas public schools, libraries, community colleges, universities and nonprofit health care clinics have received TIF funding for equipment, infrastructure and basic connectivity to the Internet and/or local area networks. The only drawback is that these are isolated investments that benefit only the entity receiving the funding. The challenge before the TIFB is ensuring that these and future grants include and benefit the wider community.

Collaborative Community Networking Grants

The Collaborative Community Networking Grant is a vehicle the TIF board has used to extend access to the Internet and other advanced technologies to more Texans, particularly those living in rural, remote, and underserved communities. A “community network” is a linking of content and resources to promote community education, economic development, and access to services for everyone in the community, particularly those not traditionally online. The public should have access to the network at convenient points in the community, such as computer workstations in public libraries.

TIF-eligible entities are encouraged but not required, to include local governments in their community networks. At present, partnering is the only way that local governments can participate in TIF-funded programs, and even in such cases the local government cannot receive any TIF funding; it can only share in the benefits of the network. A TIF-eligible partner serves as the fiscal agent for the grant and all purchases belong to that partner. In addition, local governments must pay certain costs, such as monthly service or Internet access fees, to their partners.[8] These terms discourage many local governments from participating in community networks and thus from gaining online access.

Telecommunications Planning Group

The 1997 Legislature established the Telecommunications Planning Group (TPG) with the goals of:

  • Developing a plan for a state telecommunications network that will effectively and efficiently meet the long-term requirements of state government for voice, video and computer communications, with the goal of achieving a single centralized telecommunications network for state government; and
  • Developing the functional requirements for a statewide system of telecommunications services for all state agencies.[9]

The TPG is composed of representatives of the Department of Information Resources, the Comptroller’s office, and the General Services Commission.

The TPG’s Strategic Plan for Texas State Government Telecommunications Services 2001-2005 is intended to guide the implementation of the state’s telecommunications network for state agencies (TEX-AN 2000) and to achieve the following goals within the next five years:

  • Provide public access to government information and services.
  • Establish the platform needed for public access to educational resources.
  • Support essential network services to state government agencies.
  • Centralize network support functions and management of network services.
  • Provide open interfaces for connectivity to facilitate the exchange of government information among state agencies.[10]

The TPG has yet to develop viable solutions for developing and implementing a single statewide telecommunications network that can be fiscally justifiable for all governments.

Some state agencies, such as the Texas Department of Transportation, have their own dedicated telecommunications networks that connect with most local governments in the state. These networks, however, were developed to address only a single agency’s particular programs.[11]

TEX-AN 2000

The TEX-AN 2000 state telecommunications network leverages a public network solution that provides both long distance voice and data transport services (without incurring the expense or long-term commitment to state-owned infrastructure) by using the infrastructure of established companies such as AT&T.

The General Services Commission’s Telecommunications Services Division (TSD) manages the operation of TEX-AN 2000 for all state agencies. State agencies and institutions of higher education are required to use the network’s services. TSD is authorized to offer services to cities, counties, councils of government, and independent school districts as well.[12]

Unfortunately, the individual costs to local governments for connecting to TEX-AN 2000 are too high for some governments, especially for rural governments miles away from the nearest AT&T point of presence or network router. For instance, the average monthly cost for Texas counties to use TEX-AN 2000’s T1 bandwith access circuits for both long distance voice and data transport services is $569.44, not a negligible cost for smaller jurisdictions.[13]

No state grants are available to help local governments with TEX-AN 2000 costs, and the TSD does not encourage local governments to collaborate in meeting these costs.

Education Service Centers

The Texas Education Agency coordinates regional technology education for the state’s school districts through 20 regional education service centers (RESCs) located across the state. RESCs, which are not regulated by the state and are locally managed, provide school districts with technology planning, consulting, professional development, support and training services. The centers are funded from federal, state and local resources. The technology-related services are funded with TIF grants, federal grants, local contributions, and fees for services from school districts. The TIF supplies RESCs with about $8 million annually for basic staff, equipment, and facilities.[14] Although they provide a good model of state and local government cooperation, these centers are strictly for school districts.

Regional Geographic Information Systems

The term “geographical information system” (GIS) is applicable to a large group of interrelated technologies. For local governments, a GIS has been defined as “a computer technology that combines geographic data (the locations of man-made and natural features on the earth’s surface) and other types of information (names, classifications, addresses and much more) to generate visual maps and reports.”[15] Geographic information is used for such things as land use and urban growth planning, zoning and permit tracking, transportation planning and management, emergency management, school districting, school bus routing and taxation analysis.

The 1997 Texas Legislature created the Texas Geographic Information Council (TGIC) to serve as an advisory body to the Texas Water Development Board on matters related to operating the Texas Natural Resources Information System (TNRIS), the state’s geographic information clearinghouse and referral center. The TGIC also advises the Texas Department of Information Resources on issues concerning data and information technology standards and strategies. The TGIC’s charter states that it was created to:

...provide cost-effective and useful exchange and retrieval of geospatial information both within and among the various agencies and branches of government, and from the agencies and branches of state government to the people of Texas and their elected representatives.[16]

Texas state agencies and local governments are rapidly expanding their use of geographical data. Most state agency and local government databases contain geographic data, but they lack the ability to display or analyze them. GIS technology is needed to do that.

Increasingly, GIS technology is being imbedded in the newest relational database and Internet technologies; soon, this will allow all types of spatial data visualization, query and analysis to be available in mainstream information technology applications. Telecommunications is essential to GIS technology for sharing “live” data between governments, providing interactive spatial view and query tools to the public, and supporting emergency response operations in the field with view, query and analysis tools using current spatial data. The massive “spatial data clearinghouse” being implemented by TNRIS will host over a terabyte of data on the Internet in the near future. Most governments and private data users will prefer to grab the spatial data they require in real time across the Internet.

A fully equipped GIS department, however, requires expensive equipment and software. The majority of local governments lack personnel trained to operate GIS technology, and collecting local GIS data is an expensive and time-consuming process.

The Stephen F. Austin State University’s Forest Resources Institute, in collaboration with State Representative Jim McReynolds and the TNRIS, have developed a proposed Texas Geography Network initiative calling for the establishment of state archives of digital geographic information at various locations around the state. Each site would distribute and maintain GIS data and assist users with interpreting them.

The proposal, which is expected to be introduced during the 2001 legislative session, includes nine regional sites at existing university facilities throughout the state.[17]


A. Section 59.072(a) and Chapter 57, Subchapter C, of the Texas Utilities Code should be amended to make local governments eligible for the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF) grant funding when they participate as partners in the Collaborative Community Networking Grant Initiative.

If necessary, the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board (TIFB) should be directed to change its TIF eligibility policy to include local governments as TIF-eligible entities. The law should give local governments not already participating in an existing community network the opportunity to join.

TIF funding for local governments should be limited to the telecommunications infrastructure that supports developing local and wide area networks and access to the TEX-AN 2000 statewide network and the Internet. Eligible infrastructure would include telecommunications servers, routers, wiring, and cabling or other wireless solutions. It should not be available to local governments for personal computers, printers and related equipment, as it is for other TIF-eligible entities.

Requests for funding should continue to be a competitive and collaborative process. As a condition of receiving TIF funding, each community network should be required to design a “community Web portal” complying with Texas Electronic Government Task Force/Department of Information Resources state web site and networking interface standards to ease integration with the state’s newly created web portal, TexasOnline. Furthermore, in an attempt to increase community residents’ access to and usage of computers and the Internet, community network applicants could be encouraged to promote more public access terminals and community technology education and training. (See separate issue paper EG 4 for more recommendations relating to expanding individual residents’ access to the Internet.)

B. State law should be amended to direct the TIFB to increase the total funding allotment earmarked for collaborative community networks.

At the end of fiscal 2000, the TIFB had awarded only $187.6 million of $328.1 million available for Collaborative Community Networking Grant Initiatives. For fiscal 2001, the TIFB’s proposed grant funding for community networking is about $25.5 million.[18] This should be increased accordingly by the TIFB.

C. At a minimum, state law should require the TIFB to earmark $12 million from the qualifying entities account annually to local governments participating in the Collaborative Community Networking Grant Initiative.

Application for these community networking grants will continue to be a collaborative and competitive process that must follow all other TIF rules and guidelines.

D. The General Services Commission (GSC) and the Telecommunications Planning Group (TPG) should amend the TEX-AN 2000 contract to enable TIF-funded community networks to access the state’s telecommunications network.

The GSC and the TPG should develop a cost schedule for community participation, including rates to be charged, if any, to entities not eligible for the TIF that participate in community networks.

If necessary, the Tex-An 2000 contract should address the challenge of entities participating in community networks that are not eligible for the TIF (such as for-profit businesses) having limited, if any, access to the TEX-AN 2000 state network for security purposes and to ensure that there is no opportunity for the TIF-eligible entities to resell access to the state’s closed network.

If necessary, state law should be amended to direct the GSC to outsource a portion of the support and maintenance responsibilities associated with the TEX-AN 2000 network if it cannot handle the increased network usage resulting from community network participation.

E. State law should be amended to direct the Department of Information Resources to study the feasibility of creating regional technology centers (RTCs), modeled after the Texas Education Agency’s regional education service centers that would serve as a foundation for community technology centers (CTCs).

The RTCs could help bridge the governmental “digital divide” by eliminating local government connectivity barriers. RTCs, in turn, could establish and promote local, independently-funded CTCs to help local citizens and businesses across the divide. RTCs would have a regional membership made up of area local governments.

In addition to technology support, RTCs could serve as geographical information system (GIS) coordinators for their members, making state GIS data available to local governments that otherwise would not have the infrastructure, equipment, or personnel needed to use the data. This aspect of the centers’ work should be coordinated with the proposed Texas Geography Network, if the Legislature chooses to create it.

F. State law should be amended to direct the TPG and the TIFB to pursue federal grants to fund innovative statewide and community networking solutions and regional and community technology education initiatives.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Technology Opportunities Program (TOP), formerly known as Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) awards grants to public and non-profit sector organizations that promote the widespread availability and use of advanced telecommunications technologies. Since 1994, TOP has awarded matching grants to state, local and tribal governments, health care providers, schools, libraries, police departments, and community-based non-profit organizations.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Community Technology Centers program, which began in 1999, funds projects that create and expand community technology centers that provide urban and rural areas and economically distressed communities access to computers, the Internet, and educational technology.

Fiscal Impact

These recommendations could be implemented without additional state revenue, since funding would come from the annual assessments already imposed on telecommunications utility providers and commercial mobile service providers doing business in Texas. The public schools account of the TIF would not be affected; all recommendations would be funded from the Collaborative Community Networking allotment in TIF’s qualifying entities account.

The estimated cost of installing high-end (fiber-optic cable) telecommunications infrastructure to all cities and counties in Texas would be approximately $439 million. This assumes that all cities and counties would require a 100 percent investment in telecommunications infrastructure. About one-third to one-half of the total cost could be leveraged by participating in community networks, which assumes a one-third savings by sharing costs and a 10 percent local match.[19] Therefore, the total cost per city or county is averaged to approximately $300,000. Costs could be reduced further if local governments renegotiate their cable franchise agreements to include free fiber-optic cable access or explore the use of wireless technologies.

The cost of installing high-end (fiber-optic cable) telecommunications infrastructure to all cities and counties in Texas without an established Web site would be approximately $359.5 million, a figure determined after subtracting the 205 cities and 59 counties that already have a Web presence. The existence of a local government Web site, however, does not necessarily mean that the local government has the required infrastructure in place for local area and wide area networks, nor does the absence of a Web site guarantee that a local government lacks the necessary infrastructure for participation in community and/or statewide networking.

Since the collaborative community networking grant is competitive, not all of the cities and counties in Texas would receive funding. Only the locally-collaborative community network applications that show the best likelihood of sustainability after the TIF funding expires would be awarded funding. Therefore, if $12 million is set aside for the local governments’ costs to participate in community networking annually until the end of the life of the fund, about 40 additional local government entities could be funded each year. TIF funding may expire before the end of fiscal 2006 in which case funding for this recommendation would no longer be available.

Cost to Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund
$ 12,000,000
$ 12,000,000
$ 12,000,000
$ 12,000,000
$ 12,000,000


[1] IBM Institute for Electronic Government, Center for Electronic Communities, “e-Communities, Portals and the Public Sector,” 2000 (http://www.ieg.ibm.com/pubs/ecomm.html). (Internet document.)

[2] Texas Department of Information Resources, “Electronic Government Task Force State Business Portal Project, Frequently Asked Questions, #1,” Austin, Texas, June 2000 (http://www.dir.state.tx.us/egov/faq.htm). (Internet document.)

[3] Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, “Texas Counties’ Official Web Sites and Texas Cities’ Official Web Sites,” July 19, 2000; and Texas Municipal League, “Membership,” 1998 (http://www.tml.org/member.html). (Internet document.)

[4] V.T.C.A., Utilities Code §57.043 (a).

[5] Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board, “Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board – Master Plan, Chapter III - Introduction, Figure 3: TIF Allocation Accounts,” (Austin, Texas) January 27, 2000 (http://www.tifb.state.tx.us/masterplan/masterpln-intro.htm). (Internet document.)

[6] Spreadsheet of TIF Disbursements through the end of FY 2000, provided by Whitney Sklar, Research and Information Specialist, Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board, August 31, 2000. (Handout.)

[7] Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board, “Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board - Master Plan, Chapter V – TIF’s Strategic and Operational Plan, Subchapter H, TIF Grant and Loan Program,” Austin, Texas, January 27, 2000 (http://www.tifb.state.tx.us/masterplan/masterpln-intro.htm). (Internet document.)

[8] Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board, “Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board – Community Networking RFP, Chapter VI, Eligible Costs,” Austin, Texas, July 15, 1999 (http://www.tifb.state.tx.us/CNLinks/Cn_html.html). (Internet document.)

[9] V.T.C.A., Government Code §2054.201 – 2054.205.

[10] Telecommunications Planning Group, Strategic Plan for Texas State Government Telecommunications Services 2001-2005, Austin, Texas, October 1, 2000, p. 7 (http://www.dir.state.tx.us/TPG/2000/index.html). (Internet document.)

[11] Telecommunications Planning Group, Strategic Plan for Texas State Government Telecommunications Services 2001-2005, Executive Summary, p. 35.

[12] General Services Commission, “TEX-AN 2000 Services,” Austin, Texas (http://www.tex-an.net). (Internet document.)

[13] General Services Commission, “GSC T-1 Price List to County Courthouses,” Austin, Texas, February 2000. (Handout.)

[14] Interview with Philip M. Cochran, Ph.D., director of Education Service Center Support, Texas Education Agency, Austin, Texas, September 11, 2000; and Texas Education Agency, Education Service Center Support, “Proposed 1999-2000 ESC Technology Allocation.” (Worksheet.)

[15] Public Technology Inc., gis://The Next Management Tool, Washington, DC, 1997.

[16] Texas Geographic Information Council, “Geographic Information Framework for Texas: Resolutions for Action,” Austin, Texas, January 1999, app. 1-6 (http://www.tgic.state.tx.us/tgic/documents/plans/gip.htm). (Internet document.)

[17] Interview with Dr. James C. Kroll, director, and P.R. Blackwell, information scientist, Forest Resources Institute, Stephen F. Austin State University, Austin, Texas, August 5, 2000.

[18] E-mail communication from Whitney Sklar, Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund Board, October 18, 2000.

[19] Telephone interview with Harold Nelson, consultant, Elert & Associates, Cameron, Texas, October 11, 2000.

e-Texas is an initiative of Carole Keeton Rylander, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Post Office Box 13528, Capitol Station
Austin, Texas

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