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FCC to propose new video archive in national broadband plan

A proposal in the draft of the government's imminent broadband plan would create a YouTube-like online archive called Video.gov to preserve agencies' Web content and possibly information provided by the media, an official with the Federal Communications Commission said on Monday.

The planned national digital archives for the 21st century would expand upon the government's Data.gov Web site, a warehouse of downloadable federal statistics, and be maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress and other agencies, said Eugene Huang, FCC's director of government performance and civic engagement for the national broadband plan.

The proposal is part of the yet-to-be-released national broadband plan. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act requires FCC to produce the plan, which aims to ensure everyone in the United States has access to a high-speed Internet connection and boost civic participation through the Web, among other goals.

Huang announced at a forum on civic engagement hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Future Civic Media that the Video.gov concept was among FCC's recommendations for the broadband plan. The final draft is expected to be delivered to Congress on March 17.

He praised Data.gov, which launched May 21 and has received 64 million hits as of Jan. 31, for promoting a more open democracy, but said the model should be extended to offer video, as well as information from other branches of government. The Video.gov proposal could run afoul of intellectual property laws, so FCC also recommends Congress consider amending copyright legislation to allow public and broadcast media to contribute footage, Huang said.

"While there is great demand for government to be a wholesaler of data, there is still not enough [available]," he added.

The plan's other proposals include establishing a secure Defense Department system that military members overseas could use to vote online and making legal documents available on the Web for free. Currently, the Web site for retrieving federal court records, Public Access to Court Electronic Records, charges users a fee for searching and viewing documents. "Although Data.gov applies to the executive branch, we believe that similar [initiatives] should apply to the legislative and judiciary," Huang said.

But none of these systems will supplant the process of filing requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act, he noted. "We recognize that FOIA potentially is the oldest version of open government initiatives," Huang said. "This will not replace FOIA, but what we realize is that providing tools will help empower citizens to learn about their government and gain access to government services."

Panelists at the forum later assessed the proposals and said the Obama administration should address the sustainability of such applications.

"Anyone can decide not to do this anymore -- and just turn off Data.gov," noted Nick Grossman, a director at The Open Planning Project, an organization that uses the Web to spur civic action.

Starting with smaller endeavors might be the best approach to achieving sustainability, some participants added. Jerry Mechling, a faculty chairman at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, suggested taking facets of health care and education reform -- both of which are emphasized separately in the broadband plan -- and opening them for debate on the Web.

Grossman added, "The way technology is working right now, it allows us to iterate and experiment and fail small."

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