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Cecil County Council Considers Live Web Video of Meetings; Audio, Archive Questions Remain

April 7, 2013
By Nancy Schwerzler

Live, from Elkton, it’s Tuesday night…

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—even if it’s on a Tuesday and there are no celebrity guest hosts.

The county’s 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 “Swagit,” 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’s website but in fact the technical functions and storage would be handled by the firm’s 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’s own website would be very costly on a long-term basis due to the huge quantities of bandwidth that video files require. “We’re able to get a lot more bang for your dollar” 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. “We could get a better deal,” she said, and added that she thought it was “very important that we archive” 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’s own website is “not a problem” 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.

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5 Responses to Cecil County Council Considers Live Web Video of Meetings; Audio, Archive Questions Remain

  1. Bob Gatchel on April 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Why is it that when it comes to technology, people– MAINLY GOVERNMENTS– are willing to throw tons of money at things because the vendors make it SOUND so complicated and confusing. Look, I’m an engineer by trade and know the profit potential of the philosophy of “if you can’t dazzle with intelligence, baffle with B.S.”

    There is a TOTALLY FREE SOLUTION to do exactly what Cecil County needs, and would allow anyone even with LOW SPEED INTERNET connections to be able to view live, and view archives of, video feeds. It’s called GOOGLE HANGOUTS.

    I have been using these hangouts for our business since their inception. It allows video meetings for teams of course but it can be used to STREAM / BROADCAST LIVE via a YouTube channel and allows the video feed to be ARCHIVED and KEPT on a YouTube Channel for later viewing. Automatically and for free–FREE. NO storage fees etc.

    The interesting thing? If someone has a smartphone and cruddy internet connection, they can view live on the phone via YouTube apps and yes, seeing the archives via apps / internet too.

    I’m willing to consult / give a demonstration for FREE to the County– or maybe I should charge my normal rate and request a retainer to manage things. The point is that the county should consider all options, and not just the expensive ones.

  2. Bob Gatchel on April 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    PS: I’m willing to give “expert testimony” on this subject. I’m just TIRED of watching wasted tax dollars.

    By the way, the storage on the YouTube channel? Not just two years but INDEFINITE and no worry about storage limitations or bandwidth limitations. And did I say FREE?

    Current county IT personnel can manage this quite easily and effectively and provide even more access to the information for the county.

    There: problem solved. Now can we work on the bigger issues in the county?

  3. Al Reasin on April 7, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    I spoke about this at the legislative meeting but forgot to mention Youtube, where my videos of just about all of the meetings since September of last year are available – at channel alreasin.

    Anyway 4 tera bytes storage for a computer costs $170 and that would store 1600 meetings of 1 hr 15 minutes each. Don’t know the cost for that amount of added storage for the county’s server or whether it is capable of serving more than one person at a time.

    Real time streaming, IMO, is not worth the effort since except for the legislative and citizen’s corner, the meetings are during most people’s working time.

  4. Bob Laird on April 8, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    Hi everyone! With full respect to Nancy, Bob G and Al R, I bring the following info. First, although this article doesn’t specifically call out the County for the method that is being employed to resolve the matter of Video & Audio for these meetings, the humorous angle does imply that there is something not quite right either.

    On to the topic at hand, though. I have spoken with the folks who are working on the tech side of this for us. They cannot use options like YouTube and Google Hangouts because these options do not comply with REGULATIONS SET FORTH BY THE STATE OF MARYLAND!

    In other words, we really shouldn’t be giving Cecil folks any guff over this as they are trying to bring the best product to all of us while staying within the restrictions that Annapolis has provided.

    So, if we have a beef with Cecil folks that is something that they actually have full control over, go for it! But, in this case, we need to lay off.

    Thanks a bunch.

    Bob

    • Nancy Schwerzler on April 9, 2013 at 3:06 am

      Bob, when it comes to humor, we figure laughter about all things Cecil County government beats the alternative of tears. Security is a big concern of any government agency and given the level of hacking that goes on these days, I can understand regulations that might require a more closed system either through the county’s own operations or through a private vendor with enhanced security systems.

      Our only concern in all this is that the county keep in mind the many county residents who do not have access, for financial or location reasons, to highspeed Internet services. The audio service currently provided works well, doesn’t cost anything extra, and should be retained regardless of whether additional video services are initiated.

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