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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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September 30, 2008 10:01 AM

Broadband Powers Revolution In How Congress Does Business

In my post the week before last about the Why Broadband Matters Senate Commerce Committee hearing I forgot to mention the coolest part: they used videoconferencing technology to allow the gentleman from Alaska to provide his testimony.

At first when I walked into the room I didn't think much of it. I've seen videoconferencing being used many times before, not so much that I consider it commonplace but enough so that seeing it in action doesn't register that high on the excitement scale.

And the way they used it in this hearing--with two monitors, once facing the Senators and one facing the audience--seemed seamless so I didn't think much of it, assuming its use was commonplace on the Hill.

The audio and video were both great, and the only issue was a noticeable lag between when senators asked questions and the gentleman in Alaska responded. At one point it seemed as if he didn't hear a question altogether, but it was only a minor incident. And Senator Stevens tried waving goodbye to his constituent while walking out of the room but it didn't seem to register as I don't think the camera could see him while standing. So while it worked great, videoconferencing still doesn't quite replace the experience of being in a room with someone.

But afterwards in talking with Christine Kurth, the Senate Commerce Committee's chief of staff, I was amazed to learn that this was the first time they'd tried this setup, which was remarkable given how natural and unobtrusive the experiment was.

But that's not the most important thing. In thinking this through it dawned on me that I'd just watched one of the most potentially revolutionary things to ever happen to Congress.

Imagine what this could mean to the democratic process if the use of this technology became commonplace. Instead of hearings being dominated by experts and spokespeople that live inside the Beltway and limited to those who live outside the Beltway that can afford the time and money to come to DC, we could enable hearings to feature the leading experts no matter where they're located.

That means better insight, more diverse opinions, and therefore a hopefully more well-informed Congress, plus it's green as it saves the need to travel in to our Nation's capitol to have an influence there.

I also learned that if we're lucky, this will only be the beginning of broadband revolutionizing the way Congress does business. In chatting further with Christine I learned that they're very interested in not only using this videoconferencing setup more but also trying out technologies like telepresence, or videoconferencing on steroids where it feels like you're sitting across the table from the person you're talking with online.

I know AT&T; and Cisco are eager to find opportunities to showcase telepresence technologies, and I can't think of a more impactful, higher profile test case than this, not only improving the way government works but also showcasing firsthand to influential decisionmakers the power of what broadband makes possible.

I'm excited to see where all this may take us as through technology we can break the stranglehold of special interests and return the government to the people by facilitating more people to participate in the political process without worry of the limitations of geographic distance.

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