US Congress Telecommuncations and the Internet Subcommittee Hearing on the Future of the Web

Submitted by Danny Weitzner on Sun, 2007-03-04 15:23. ::

The original appearance of this entry was in Danny Weitzner - Open Internet Policy

Last week, the US Congress House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Telecommunications and the Internet had it’s first hearing of the year, the subject of which was the Future of the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee was the sole witness at this hearing. The topic and witness choice were notable for a couple of reasons. This is the first meeting of the committee in the new session of Congress and the Chair of the committee, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), announced his intention to take a long range look at the larger issues facing communications policy in the United States. This, by itself, is a wonderful idea. The fact that he decided to start this series of hearings with the World Wide Web, as opposed to so many other topics he might have chosen, really speaks to the central importance that the Web has in our society. The fact that he chose Tim to testify was great, too, IMHO. :-)

The Committee covered a wide range of questions, including:

  • how will the Semantic Web change science and health care?
  • what are the key lessons to learn from the first phase of the Web about how to promote continued innovation?
  • what should be done, technically or legally, about spam, pornography available to kids, identity theft?
  • why did Tim decide to make Web technology available royalty-free?
  • does support for royalty-free standards imply that content and services on the Web also have to be free?
  • and even, a slighty sheepish question about whether teleportation might be possible in the future?

I’ve been to a lot of congressional hearings, especially in my earlier professional life as lawyer and advocate for Internet civil liberties organizations EFF and CDT. This was one of the most positive, thoughtful and forward looking hearings that I’ve ever been to. Here you could see the Committee actually looking out into the future about the potential of the Web and trying to figure out what they could do (or not do) to help assure that it continues to grow and be available to all for commercial, political, cultural and personal use. Too often, Congress gets bogged down in its somewhat inevitable but short-sighted role as mediator amongst special interests. This was Congress at its best. It was great to be there.

You can read Tim’s testimony on the Web.

Ironically enough, though it’s easy to read the testimony, it’s not so easy to get an archived copy of the video feed from the hearing. Though most Congressional activity is recorded on video and much of it is streamed live by CSPAN or others, there’s no organized way to get achived copies of the video. Carl Malamud is engaged in a serious effort to try to remedy this situation, including trying to encourage CSPAN to make it’s archive of congressonal video public.

In the meantime, Carl has kindly ripped the feeds from the hearing and put them up in 2 places (Google Video and archive.org)

I’m certainly going to be following Carl’s efforts and looking to help out where I can.

Update: C-SPAN has changed its policy and now provides public access with a Creative Commons license.