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FCC Pledges To "Democratize" Data At Broadband Workshop

The FCC Wednesday launched its broadband workshop series with a look at e-government and civic participation as well as a call for new ideas and a pledge to "democratize" data.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski echoed the complaint that the first round of comments on the FCC's national broadband plan did not advance the ball far enough, and was looking for input
that would "meet the moment" and that tackles "the hard questions."

He said the FCC would encourage innovation and experimentation, so he also understood it could make some mistakes along the way, calling it a "real time experiment in democracy and innovation."

But the chairman said the broadband plan was not an abstract exercise. He said every percentage point increase in deployment translates into 300,000 jobs according to a Brookings study.

He also talked about eye doctors who could prevent blindness in newborns via online diagnosis, and do it faster and more cost-efficiently. He said it was unacceptable that that was not available to everyone.

The White House representatives at the panel made it clear that broadband was key to what they see as a seismic change in how government is run, including the FCC.

It is safe to say that this was probably the first public FCC event that featured references to data sets, blogs, widgets, crowdsourcing, Wikipedia, Twitter, apps, and Second Life.

Vivek Kundra, U.S. Chief Information Officer, outlined administration efforts to "democratize" data by opening up government information and processes and allowing Web surfers to massage that data, inspect those processes and improve them. He said how much information could be fit into the pipeline would be important, suggesting that Internet speeds would be key to the administration's vision of a truly connected world. He also said education and training would be critical.

Beth Noveck, U.S. deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government, talked of ways in which the expertise of the American people could be brought into the process of regulating by turning the rule and comment process on its head by going to the people first, then using that information to create policy.

The FCC is already starting to do that. Noveck announced that a new Web site had been created by the FCC that would solicit public input to help craft the broadband plan.

Kundra said that as the FCC was considering the broadband plan, it should not lose site of the third window-the cell phone (the other two are TV and computer screens). He suggested trying to tap into text messaging as a way to connect as well.

One thing made clear in the workshop was that the broadband plan was integral to President Obama's broader vision of open, participatory government that relies on new technology and new technology skills.

Kundra said an IT dashboard had been created where real-time feedback was helping the government decide how to better spend billions in IT expenditures. The administration is putting as much data on government online.

Some airline data that was released resulted in a new application that allows online surfers to calculate average delay times.

Kundra said if a national grid of information in real time can be created, better decisions could be made.

Noveck seemed to sum up the challenge by suggesting government was having to play catch-up to the innovation in the private and public sectors.