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The Future of Civic Engagement in a Broadband"Enabled World

03/01/2010 4:00 PM Wong Auditorium
Eugene J. Huang, Government Operations Director, National Broadband Task Force, Federal Communications Commission

Description: 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 to deploy infrastructure throughout the U.S., by cable, wireless, or satellite; to ensure affordable access for all; and to address a group of national priorities. 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 conclusionthat 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: building a more open and transparent government, by making all government and judicial records freely available online, and streaming government meetings and hearings; 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; deploying social media in all government agencies; recruiting technological innovators into government, engaging citizen experts from the private sector and starting an innovation corps; and 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."

About the Speaker(s): Eugene J. Huang is helping to craft the "national purposes" section of the National Broadband Plan, with a specific focus on the topics of government operations and civic engagement.

From 2006 to 2009, Huang served at the US Department of the Treasury. He covered a wide range of international economic and finance issues with a special responsibility for U.S. bilateral relations with China.

Previously, Huang was a Visiting Scholar at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research at Stanford University. From 2002 to 2006, he served the Commonwealth of Virginia as the Secretary of Technology and previously as the Deputy Secretary of Technology. Huang was responsible for managing the state's award winning information technology reform initiative, fostered the development of advanced broadband communications, and facilitated the growth of emerging technology industries throughout Virginia.

Huang graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, with a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School, a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, and a M.S. in Telecommunications Engineering. He received a Thouron Award from the University of Pennsylvania and studied at St. John's College, Oxford University, where he received a M.Phil., with distinction, in Economic History. Huang is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Center for Future Civic Media

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