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Imagine an Oakland where every home has blazing fast Internet. Where City departments don't work with paper. Where the City's web sites are easy, fast, and useful. Where companies fight for office and warehouse space in Hella Silicon Valley. Where the City wins awards for innovation, for technology leadership that make Oakland a better place to raise kids and find well paying work. 

An Oakland Technology Commission can help us slash our backlog of tech projects, use our telecom permitting power, attract tech talent and business, narrow our digital divide, increase our buying power, and increase Oaklander privacy and control over personal data. 

Problems, Solutions, and Next Steps. (slide deck version 0.1)

Challenges

Oakland faces several missed opportunities, risks, and costs in the area of information technology.

  • Growing Technical Debt. The City has a huge "technology debt", a long list of work deferred, bugs to fix, systems to upgrade or retire, risks to be secured, paper to be digitized, workflows to be automated, apps to be built, staff to be trained. The scope of these problems, and the costs for digging out, are still incompletely measured or prioritized. And we lack a broad plan to pay off this debt.
  • Wasted Permitting Power. Telephone companies, internet service providers, and cable companies operate with the City's permission but without addressing public concerns. We negotiate with Comcast and AT&T on our own once ever four to six years with professionals who do these deals daily all over the country, leaving us at a disadvantage. Oakland doesn't use its bargaining power because public interests have not been expressed. A generation ago we negotiated for public access channels and studios from cable companies in exchange for exclusive contracts. What should we ask for in 2013? in 2015?
    • We could be lobbying companies to lay live fiber every time the streets are opened, every time a home is connected, to improve our economy.
    • We could negotiate increased bandwidth in public libraries to improve education.
    • We could get cheap smart phones to support our community services.
    • We could demand more transparency in the areas of personal privacy and personal control over consumer data.
    • We could contract reports to assure every neighborhood of our community has the communication capacity to assure economic development.
    • We could ensure carriers can operate during and after earthquakes and disasters, saving lives and speeding recovery.
  • Barely a Tech Town in Silicon Valley. Oakland has an opportunity to be a more attractive place for big and small tech companies to operate. The City government does a weak job at selling Oakland to tech communities.
  • Technology Law is Overwhelming. Sacramento and D.C. make complex new laws and new regulations affecting the City and the companies and employees working here. The City isn't addressing this in its lobbying, in its public advocacy, or in its policy positions. 
  • We Forget Our Tech Past. Oakland makes the same mistakes, debates the same issues, duplicates the same efforts year after year, generation after generation. We lack institutional memory and knowledge communities to learn from experience, to share knowledge and avoid costly tech dead ends and policy bottlenecks.
  • Oakland Acts Like An Island. We don't pool our technology purchases, coordinate our contract negotiations, or cooperate in our tech advocacy with other Bay Area governments and agencies.
  • Offline Citizens. Many Oaklanders still have very limited access to the Internet at home, at work, or in their mobiles. This hurts the City's ability to automate without cutting off those who need services the most.

A Technology Commission could address these issues.

  • Agenda. The TC would listen to local tech leaders, advocates, and community members to form a tech agenda that supports Oakland.
    • Year One Goal: Tech policy agenda.
    • Year One Goal: Tested a process for turning tech community ideas into an actionable policy agenda.
  • Cooperation. The TC would promote coordination with other public sector groups and NGOs to improve our negotiation, advocacy, and buying power.
    • Year One Goal: Quarterly meeting with counterparts from ABAG and other agency neighbors.
  • Planning. The TC would be the agent of our City's broad interests regarding permitting for mobile and wireless phone and Internet providers and for cable companies. The TC would advise, review, and sign off on Planning Department and Planning Commission activity in this area.
    • Year One Goal: Compile the calendar of contract renewals, with discussion points and proposed partnerships for each.
  • Open Data. The TC would review and revise the City's open data policies, where data sets are made available to the public.
    • Year One Goal: Submit prioritized list of data sets to be added to the City's open data portal.
  • Technical Debt. The TC would review  and report on the City's state of technical debt and annual progress.
    • Year One Goal: Work with City staff to compile the first annual report.
  • Tech City. The TC would advise the Mayor and City Council on economic development related to high tech.
    • Year One Goal: Add a Tech City component to the City's business recruiting activity.
  • Tapping Talent. The TC would recruit IT professionals from big Oakland companies and startups to advise and support City IT staff.
    • Year One Goal: A pool of tech volunteers connected with their City counterparts on named projects, and a system for coordinating this activity.

What's next? Open questions? 

  • Q. How does the City create a new commission? What's the workflow and checklist? Who signs off? 
  • Q. Charter? Assuming it needs a charter, how would we draft a charter that's useful? What's missing from this page?
  • Q. Duplication of Effort? How can we verify these challenges aren't being well-addressed elsewhere?
  • Q. Buy-in? Which City stakeholders' buy-in would help the TC's creation and chances of success? Whose support in Oakland's tech community would help this succeed?
  • Q. Team composition? What blend of experience, attitudes, talents, and affiliations could make an effective TC? 
  • Q. Candidates? Who would you nominate to the commission?
  • Q. Operations? How would the TC operate, assuming commissioners work no more than an hour or two weekly? Dedicated staff? Staff seconded from other City departments? Volunteers? 
  • Q. Scope? What limits or constraints would be reasonable to apply to the TC? What risks or threats to the TC's success might we plan for and mitigate? What City, county, and California laws, rules, and regulations apply to the conduct of a city commission?
  • Q. Money? What would a first-year TC budget look like? Does every City commission come with some overhead charges? How could we fund the TC? 

Discussion

Love it or hate it? Doable or pipe dream? 

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