MENLO PARK, Calif. — A cellphone application that tells residents when the next bus is coming is the winner of a competition held by the Federal Communications Commission to help Americans access government services.
The "Apps for Communities" challenge attracted 75 applicants from around the country. The goal was to create programs that help low-income or underserved residents connect to government services.
The top prize of $30,000 announced Thursday in Menlo Park went to Ryan Resella of San Francisco. He made a text and voice bus app that aims to keep children, seniors and disabled people from having to wait in bad weather, dangerous areas or unfamiliar neighborhoods.
Second prize of $20,000 was for a web-based application that connects homeless people in Santa Clara County to government services.
Homeless-SCC is already being used in San Jose. It keeps a database of agencies where homeless individuals and families may be referred and lays them out on a Google map for easy access.
Third place, and a prize of $10,000, went to a team that created a text and voice app that connects job seekers to ads. The txt2wrk app enables people who can't read well or who don't have Internet access find jobs posted online. After signing up for the service, the app sends want ads in a text message to a cellphone and will even read the ad to the recipient.
The apps the developers created are not the kind that people buy on iTunes for their smartphones. These applications can be accessed by regular cellphone users by dialing into a phone number and setting up the program to link with their phones. The web-based applications are accessed through the Internet.
In announcing the awards, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said only 68 percent of Americans have broadband Internet access at home, meaning nearly 100 million people do not have easy access to job postings, educational material and other online resources. Most of those who are offline are lower income, seniors and disabled people, he said.
"If you don't have Internet access and you're looking for a job you're out of luck," Genachowski said. "If you don't have these skills you also probably won't be qualified for more and more of the jobs that are out there."
He said it was important that more people access services online as the government moves to place more data on the web.
The contest was done in partnership with private philanthropy The Knight Foundation, which provided the award money.