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Prague City Hall budget spending millions delayed projects

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Prague City Hall is planning to spend more than a billion in information technology. From this sum, hundreds of millions will go to projects that will not happen or that the city does not need. Bezdrátová Praha (Wireless Prague) is one such project. City Hall plans to spend CZK 10 million on it this year.

And yet, it is already evident that Prague residents will not get much out of this. If anything, it will be very different from the free wireless internet connection for all residents that City Hall once promised.

The European Union said that free wi-fi in Prague would be unfair competition for other internet
operators in the city. So Praguers will only have access to the City Hall website through this service.

“The way it works now is pretty useless for internet users in Prague,” says Tomáš Homola, chairman of the city’s information technology and public commissions department.

No toll for now

The Wireless Prague project cost more than CZK 80 million, which City Hall invested in 2007 and 2008.

“We are talking about using the system for the ambulance service, Prague police and other components of city administration,” say Homola. There is also the option that Prague could sell the system.

Another mind-bogglingly big investment is the city’s toll system, which cost hundreds of millions. But introducing a toll has been put on hold because Czech laws don’t allow it. “The toll would be introduced only after the ring-road is complete,” says Petr Hulínský, chairman of the city’s finance department, who does not agree with this year’s spending on the toll project. Prague residents, he ways, will only be able to pay the toll once they have alternative options for driving through the city. The ring-road is slanted for completion in 2015.

Already the toll has swallowed up CZK 29 million from the city’s coffers. This has helped finance studies on different version of the toll.

“Right now we are trying to resolve the legal aspects and are not rushing things,” Mayor Pavel Bém told the daily Metro at the end of February. He added that introducing the toll really is linked to the opening of the ring-road He thus indirectly confirmed that the CKZ 100 million earmarked for the toll in this year’s budget will not achieve everything. Another CZK 217 million this year will be spent on a new account system. But for now it is not clear if the city really needs it and how it should switch over to it.

“First we need to do operational studies,” Václav Kraus, head of city’s IT department, told HN.

A hundred spires in an IT era

Other hundreds of millions will go to help people communicate better with offices.

The mayor talked about this passionately at a November meeting of representatives. “Electronic communication is visible. It cannot be lost in folders that get filed away somewhere,” said Bém, defending the high IT costs for 2009.

Prague City Hall is also thinking about the tourists, not just the residents. Some CZK 121 million was set aside for the project Praha v informačním věku (Prague in the Information Age). This amount should cover the costs of creating a website about Prague landmarks.

“It would start with the Old Town Square, and we would eventually incorporate other landmarks,” says Kraus.

The question is whether it is necessary to spend more than a hundred million crowns on a project like this. The city already has the site Praha historická (Historic Prague), which contains information about landmarks and chapters about history. The Charles Bridge even has its own regularly updated section.

City Hall also has the Praha stověžatá site (Hundred spired Prague), a site with photographs of the city taken from various Prague towers.

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