The Future of Civic Engagement in a Broadband-Enabled World
Eugene Huang, FCC Director of Government Performance and Civic Engagement
Keynote Address at Summit hosted by MIT's Center for Future Civic Media
BROADBAND AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: FCC DISCUSSES THE FUTURE OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
March 1, 2010
Running Time: 0:35:08
The digital revolution that brought us Facebook, Twitter and YouTube could help revive participatory democracy in the U.S., says Eugene J. Huang. He unveils the FCC's plan for providing broadband access to every American, and describes how its recommendations could spur more open government and greater civic engagement.
Huang is leading an FCC taskforce developing a plan to provide every American with high quality broadband internet capability. Mandated by the Recovery Act, $7.6 billion will soon flow
Huang describes the process of fact-gathering, analysis and recommendation development as the "most open and transparent" in the FCC's history, involving public workshops, and the use of social media and blogs to encourage citizen input.
This process in many ways has come to shape the larger goals of the broadband plan. As Huang says, at the end of months of data collection and public discussion, "we came to an obvious conclusion that civic engagement is the lifeblood of our democracy", and that the broadband plan should play a major role in creating a more informed and engaged citizenry.
Vast numbers of Americans are already online, talking, debating and viewing -- an astonishing 120 million people watch more than 10 billion videos monthly. So Huang, his taskforce, and citizen participants began envisioning ways that universal, high-speed digital communication and interactivity could work for the public sector.
They ended up with five recommendations:
While these measures will require a commitment across all levels of government, Huang feels sure they will lead to a transformation that can "renew democracy in a broadband enabled 21st century."
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One of the major goals for the process of developing a national broadband plan is to insure that we are transparent, inclusive and participatory. This has been the most open data driven process in the FCC's history. We sought public input in a variety of ways:
National Broadband Plan Connecting America, Executive Summary, Broadband Action Agenda, Chapter 15: Civic Engagement
After all of this data collection we came to what may seem as an obvious conclusion: Civic engagement is the lifeblood of our democracy.
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Democracy at its core is about self governance. At the most basic level this requires an informed and engaged citizenry to
What does broadband have to do with this? It can transform civic engagement in two principle ways:
Broadband enabled technology has already revolutionized the way people interact with each other in the private sector
More open and transparent government: unmediated information
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Building a more open and transparent government by making all government and judicial records freely available online, and streaming government meetings and hearings
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Just as communities depend on individuals to create and maintain unities, individuals need trusted intermediaries to provide them with relevant, accurate information, develop debate and public conversatons and building cohesion and participation in our communities. If public media's future is to be successful it must transition from its 20th century broadcast-based mission to a 21st century broadband-based model to form the core of a new public media network that better serves the new multi-platform information needs of the future. Public media has already begun this transition.
Government can help facilitate a digital transition and mitigate these challenges: Exemptions to Copyright Act are needed.
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A national digital archive for the 21st century: We (FCC) believe government should get the ball rolling by creating video.gov, a new video platform for the federal government's digital video content modeled after data.gov. Federal government should convene a group comprised of federal agencies, the National Archives and the Library of Congress providing public access to historical materials. But this would be only one part of a larger national federal archive that would include public media and may be even commercial media. Today, these institutions sit on a wealth of America's civic DNA in the form of historic TV News content that goes back more than 50 years, millions of hours of news contents that represents America's daily life. This could revolutionize how we access our own history. Public broadcasting stations have run into difficulties getting the rights clearances. Congress should consider amending the Copyright Act to enable public and broadcasting media to more easily contribute their archival contents to a national digital archive.
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55% of all US broadband users and 85% of people 18-29 years of age use social networks. These numbers are likely to grow even further in the coming years. Government has not integrated these tools across the board the same way the private sector has. We believe that government must adopt these tools, to provide opportunities to citizens to engage using the same communication mechanisms that they use in their daily lives, not as pilot projects or add-ons but as core to its mission.
Government should use a variety of media tools, from those primarily used to communicate to those that enable more intensive participation and that specialize in co-production and co-governance. While the success integrating these tools into the government has been uneven, we believe that there is reason for optimism.
Examples (exceptions rather than the rule):
Quick information of the public about the H1N1 virus: between April and December 2009 the CDC had more than 2.6 106 downloads of the H1N1 podcast, more than 3 106 views of H1N1 related youtube videos and more than 37 106 views of H1N1 CDC videos.
Hillary R. Clinton, Remarks at the New York University Commencement Ceremony, New York University Commencement Ceremony, New York City, May 13, 2009
Anna P. Mussman, Online Conversation Connects Students in Afghanistan and Massachusetts, Dipnote, Nov. 19, 2009)
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Innovation at the nexus between broadband and civic engagement: Beyond communicating with individuals broadband provides an opportunity to engage citizens in more direct collaboration with their government in ways that lead to greater innovation. We all know that many of the best ideas come from outside of government. To take advantage of these ideas we should create avenues for more citizens to help spur innovation within the government.
Beyond transparency, government should leverage broadband to experiment with new ideas and technologies to extend opportunities for engagement.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should create an Open Platforms Initiative that uses digital platforms to engage and draw on the expertise of citizens and the private sector. This initiative should create
Although progress has been uneven, there are examples of innovative collaboration throughout the government. As part of the development of the Open Government Initiative, OSTP solicited comments online through a public brainstorming blog, a wiki and a collaborative drafting tool. To build on this progress, OSTP and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should launch and manage an initiative to develop open platforms that increase participatory governance.
This group should include all relevant senior stakeholders at the federal level and could consist of the same positions represented by the working group on transportation, accountability, participation and collaboration that was created by the Open Government Directive. Memorandum from Peter R. Orszag, Director, Open Gov't Directive to the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies (Dec. 8, 2009), available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/assets/memoranda_2010/m10-06.pdf.
These include open peer review and open expert network platforms that enable subject matter experts to volunteer to review policies under consideration and brainstorm policy ideas with each other.
The federal government has already taken steps to empower citizen experts: In 2007, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office launched its Peer-to-Patent program, a groundbreaking Internet-based program in which expert volunteers assist the federal government with reviewing patent applications. Within the first year, Peer-to-Patent attracted more than 2,000 reviewers, and 93% of patent examiners surveyed said that they would welcome examining another patent application with public participation. This kind of knowledge-sharing platform can reduce the cost of policymaking and improve government performance.
The Executive Branch and independent agencies should expand opportunities for Americans with expertise in technological innovation to serve in the federal government.
Because many of the best ideas come from outside government, OSTP and the FCC should create an Innovation Corps and an Innovation Corps to ensure that new ideas continue to flow to the federal government. An FCC-operated Innovation Corps of volunteers would serve as a think tank for technologists from inside and outside government who would volunteer to design and develop platforms and applications for all levels of government. An OSTP-administered Innovation Fellows program could be structured similarly to the White House Fellows program. It would place leading private sector experts and innovators throughout the federal government for one year.
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bringing the election process into the digital age, eliminating mistakes in voter registration, standardizing the process across states, and enabling military personnel overseas to cast ballots electronically.
Government must take advantage of these trends and adopt broadband-enabled tools to encourage citizens to communicate with government officials more often and in richer ways and to hold these officials more accountable.
The Open Government Plans released yesterday by departments and agencies throughout the Federal Government are full of examples of projects that are already driving an unprecedented level of transparency, participation and collaboration.
The release of Open Government Plans marks another step in instilling the values of transparency, participation and collaboration throughout the Federal Government.