In Palo Alto, Bling is the thing for electronic payments

Systems links with users' smart phones

The evolutionary tree of what smart phones can do has grown another branch in Palo Alto, Calif., where residents can now use their phones to pay utility bills and parking tickets.

The city has contracted with Bling Nation, a local business, to use the company’s electronic payments system, Government Technology  reported.

Users get a sticker, or BlingTag, to put on their phone. At the check-out register of a participating store — or a city government office — they tap their sticker on a Blinger box reader. The payment is deducted from their account through a system set up with a local bank or PayPal, and the phone user gets an immediate text message that confirms the payment.

The system eliminates the need for checks, cash or credit cards, as long as people are paying at Bling Nation stores or offices. Of course, it also adds a potentially big worry when phones are lost, but convenience is its major selling point.

"It seemed to make sense for us," said Thomas Fehrenbach, the city's economic development manager, told the San Jose Mercury News. "We want to promote our local businesses, and Bling is one of them."

Using smart phones for making payments seems to be catching on. Bank of America and Visa are conducting a mobile-payment trial in New York. Lamar, Colo., also has recently started using Bling, according to the company. And earlier this year, Apple and Starbucks introduced the Starbucks Card Mobile app that lets people pay for their mocha lattes and iced lemon pound cake slices with their iPhones.

Whether other local, state or federal government organizations follow their lead remains to be seen. But considering the recent pattern of technology’s influence on how agencies operate, it seems likely.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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