NEWS

Wireless access and fiber optics

It started four years ago with a simple question: How can you create a digital municipality when people don’t even have access to the Internet? That prompted the ambitious project of a wireless municipal network giving all residents Internet access. The first wireless access points went into operation in October 2005, when the initial 200 access codes were issued. To keep the network secure, Citizen Service Centers (KEP) issue residents with a free code. Though leaflets explaining the process had been distributed earlier, «most people didn’t pay much attention at first,» Trikala Mayor Michalis Tamilos admitted. «But gradually they began to see the benefits. Especially for the young, it’s no mean thing to have free Internet access.» Now 14 wireless access points cover the entire city and over 6,000 codes have been issued. Connection speed compares with typical broadband access. Another new program that debuted in October 2005 on a pilot basis has continued with great success in cooperation with the local prefectural hospital. Initially, the municipality supplied 20 people with biometric meters that transmit signals around the clock via the telephone line to specialists at the city’s tele-welfare center. Another 10 locals will receive portable smart phones that work with small, easy-to-use blood pressure and cardiac measurement devices, to monitor their health. The program is to be expanded for use by private doctors and their patients. The fiber optic network will be the city’s most substantial improvement to electronic services. The 28.5-kilometer grid, which has already been installed, will link all public services, from hospitals and schools to the police and fire service. The mayor explained that optical fibers are «thousands of times more reliable than the cables of [state telecoms provider] OTE.» They will enable extremely fast transmission of information and, by extension, better handling of matters concerning the public. It wasn’t long before local authorities in Trikala came up against the main obstacle to satisfying various demands from the public. As in practically all municipalities in Greece, demands would get lost amid the chaotic bureaucracy. That led to the idea of a system that allows Trikala residents to lodge complaints and submit proposals. The inter-service program named Demosthenes (meaning «power of the citizen») is a channel of communication between the municipality and the people. Residents use the Internet or a special ten-digit telephone number to send proposals and complaints, which are automatically forwarded to the appropriate office. What’s new is that the communication is two-way, as Demosthenes keeps the interested parties briefed at every stage of the relevant procedure. Trikala is the first municipality in Greece to institute a smart transport system with state-of-the-art sensors to monitor road traffic flow, while providing information at public transport stops, for example about available car parking spaces, and keeping track of the municipal fleet. In addition, a car parking system designed at the National Technical University of Athens allows drivers to use their mobile phone to pay for car parking.