Cecil County Council Considers Live Web Video of Meetings; Audio, Archive Questions Remain
Live, from Elkton, it‚Äôs Tuesday night‚Ä¶
Considering some of the comedy performances that have taken place at meetings of the Cecil County Commissioners, although fewer now that they have morphed into the County Council, watching meetings of the panel on the small screen might be a bit like viewing Saturday Night Live‚ÄĒeven if it‚Äôs on a Tuesday and there are no celebrity guest hosts.
The county‚Äôs Information Technology director, Scott Mesneak, briefed the Council members at their latest worksession on a possible solution to bringing video of their meetings to the public through a contractor that could provide live streaming on the Internet and a limited video archive for later viewing.
He said ‚ÄúSwagit,‚ÄĚ which provides similar services to other local governments around the country, could provide Cecil County with live streaming and storage of two meetings a month for a cost of $650 per month. The meetings would be broadcast live through the county‚Äôs website but in fact the technical functions and storage would be handled by the firm‚Äôs own website and staff. The proposal would include storage of the video archives for two years, he said, but they would be deleted after that time to save on broadband costs.
The county has been providing and posting on its website audio of evening legislative meetings held twice a month and weekly Tuesday morning worksessions for more than a year, with the audio usually posted within a day of the meetings and archived on the website since taping began. The county IT and administrative staff currently handle that task.
Video services would be much more time-consuming and require additional staff, Mesneak said, and storing video files on the county‚Äôs own website would be very costly on a long-term basis due to the huge quantities of bandwidth that video files require. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre able to get a lot more bang for your dollar‚ÄĚ by contracting out the video work, he said.
But the proposal only covered the two evening legislative meetings per month and several Council members said they would like to have video coverage of weekly worksession meetings as well. That could boost the cost from $650 a month to $1,950 a month, or raise annual costs from $7,800 to $23,400, although some Council members and Mesneak said that a package deal for additional services might yield a better bottom-line price.
Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4), who pushed for launching the audio service and has pressed for video coverage as well, said she thought other companies should also be contacted for price quotes. ‚ÄúWe could get a better deal,‚ÄĚ she said, and added that she thought it was ‚Äúvery important that we archive‚ÄĚ videos for long-term access by citizens.
Unclear in the discussion was whether the county IT staff would continue to provide audio of meetings and their archives, as currently available, if the county were to shift to a video solution from an outside contractor. Mesneak did say that providing storage of audio archives on the county‚Äôs own website is ‚Äúnot a problem‚ÄĚ because audio files do not consume that much bandwidth.
The discussion also did not mention the potential impact of a video-only system on the many Cecil County residents who are geographically, or financially, unable to obtain high-speed Internet access that is required for decent viewing of online video.
(Cecil Times has a surprisingly large number of regular online readers who access our website through the free, dial-up Internet services provided through the state public library system for home computer users. Reading a text-based website or even accessing audio files is do-able via dialup or lower-cost limited bandwidth services, but video-watching would be impossible or too expensive for many people.)
The possibility of real-time video presentation of Council meetings on the Internet would be a plus for many citizens and encourage them to be more informed about county business, without the necessity of leaving their homes and driving long distances to attend meetings in Elkton in person.
A combination of video-streaming by an outside vendor and preservation of the current county-staff provided, fully archived audio services would be a win-win solution.