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


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:

  1. building a more open and transparent government, by making all government and judicial records freely available online, and streaming government meetings and hearings;
  2. helping public media such as PBS and NPR expand beyond their broadcast models in providing news content, and removing copyright obstacles to sharing historic materials, ultimately leading to a national digital archive;
  3. deploying social media in all government agencies;
  4. recruiting technological innovators into government, engaging citizen experts from the private sector and starting an innovation corps; and
  5. 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.

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."

Details of the Address

11:05 into the address

The National Broadband Plan of the FCC

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.

14:00 into the address:

Civic Engagement

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:

  1. Broadband can strengthen the reach and relevance of
  2. Broadband can enable citizens to engage in their democracy through a variety of broadband enabled tools that will make our democracy more participatory and more representative.

Broadband enabled technology has already revolutionized the way people interact with each other in the private sector

Recommendations in Five Areas

  1. More open and transparent government: unmediated information

    15:55 into the address

    Building a more open and transparent government by making all government and judicial records freely available online, and streaming government meetings and hearings

  2. Public media ecosystem: mediated information

    18:46 into the address

    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.

    • WGBH Boston: Teachers' Domain, a free collection of around 2000 digital resources.
    • PBS Kids' Preschool Video Player, with more than 80 106 streams of educational content being delivered in just the first month.
    • NPR podcasts are being downloaded more than 15 106 times a month. In July 2008 NPR launched an Application Programming Interface (API) (Box 15-1: NPR's Open Application Programming Interface (API): A Model for a National Digital Archive).

    Government can help facilitate a digital transition and mitigate these challenges: Exemptions to Copyright Act are needed.

    22:20 into the address

    A national digital archive for the 21st century: We (FCC) believe government should get the ball rolling by creating, a new video platform for the federal government's digital video content modeled after 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.

  3. Social media (facebook, twitter)

    24:54 into the address

    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):

  4. Innovators into government

    27:55 into the address

    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

    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.

  5. Digital democracy

    30:00 into the address

    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.


Framework of this presentation:
News Media Information 202 / 418-0500
TTY: 1-888-835-5322
February 25, 2010 Mark Wigfield, 202-418-0253

Broadband and the future of civic engagement, as part of the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan, will be discussed at a summit hosted by MIT's Center for Future Civic Media on Monday, March 1. Eugene Huang, FCC Director of Government Performance and Civic Engagement for the National Broadband Plan, will give the keynote address at the summit and discuss working recommendations in the plan, focusing on broadband's power to increase civic engagement by creating an open and transparent government, supporting a robust digital public media ecosystem, expanding access through social media, fostering innovation in government, and modernizing democratic processes.

WHEN: Monday, March 1, 2010, 4-6 p.m.
WHERE: The Tang Center (E51-115), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 70 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA DC 20515

Jerry Mechling, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Nick Grossman, The Open Planning Project
Laurel Ruma, O'Reilly Media
John Wonderlich, The Sunlight Foundation
Jake Shapiro, Public Radio Exchange
Robert Bole, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Keith Neisler, WEKU-Kentucky
Marita Rivero, WGBH-Boston
Kinsey Wilson, National Public Radio
Damian Thorman, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 directed the FCC to submit a National Broadband Plan to Congress that addresses broadband deployment, adoption, affordability, and the use of broadband to advance solutions to national priorities, including energy conservation and efficiency. The Plan is due to Congress on March 17, 2010.


The Agenda discusses a number of common FCC regulatory proceedings, including:

Public Notice (PN): A PN is issued by the Commission or by one of its Bureaus and Offices to notify the public of an action taken or of the occurrence of an event, or to seek public comment on a matter the Commission is considering.

Notice of Inquiry (NOI): A NOI is issued by the Commission to ask the public for information on, or to generate ideas about, a topic. A NOI is often followed by a

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM): A NPRM is issued when the Commission is considering a change to its rules and regulations. The NPRM asks the public to comment on whether they agree with the proposed changes or to propose alternatives.

Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM): A FNPRM is issued by the Commission to seek further comment from the public when new issues arise in a proceeding after an NPRM has been issued, or the Commission desires additional public comment on issues raised in an NPRM.

Order: An order is a decision of the Commission or one of its Bureaus and Offices.

Report and Order (R&O): A R&O is a decision issued by the Commission to conclude a rulemaking proceeding. R&Os may adopt new rules, amend existing rules, or announce that rules will remain unchanged.


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