Members Offered New Video Platform

Companies Pitch Rules-Friendly System

Posted April 16, 2008 at 6:13pm

A private company is hoping Members will pony up cash for their own YouTube-like program — one that has the franking commission’s approval.

Most Members use YouTube to embed videos on their Web sites, breaking House franking rules — often unknowingly — in order to keep up with a multimedia world. But Advocacy Inc. and Global Vision Communications together are offering a similar, more personalized and House-approved service for $2,000 a year.

They won’t be the last to offer a legal option, but they probably will be one of the few. With House rules outdated and ill-equipped for a multimedia world, technically the only companies that can offer violation-free options are those that already host a server within the House domain.

The process for getting into such a position is a lengthy and restrictive one — currently, there is limited physical space for servers and officials can’t promise that a company will get a spot. Servers from 13 vendors now occupy that data center, according to the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer.

Advocacy Inc. is among those vendors. For about four years, the company has handled e-franking — or e-mailed newsletters — for a few dozen House offices. Soon, it will let Global use its server for Members’ videos.

For the moment, however, Global is hosting the content on an off-site server, apparently with approval from the franking commission. Global President Neil Hare said the commission recommended that the content be hosted on the House domain but didn’t require it. Indeed, the commission rarely rebukes the many Members who use outside sites such as YouTube to store their videos.

The program itself works much like a private YouTube, with Members at the controls. A staffer can quickly upload video of the boss’s latest floor speech and personalize the display through a series of options.

For example, a Member’s site can feature a poll next to a video or a comments section. Videos can be e-mailed and shared — or not, depending on the Members’ preferences. And it all is embedded into the official House site, never leading the viewer away to a YouTube full of advertisements.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who serves on the franking commission, is the only Member currently using the product. Spokesman Brendan Buck said he has no technical background but is able to upload videos easily.

“What we like best about it is it kind of keeps people inside your Web site,” he said. “Once you link to something else, you kind of lose everybody.”

But Buck also said the office would have to consider other options if they become available. Price, he said, wants an open market.

“We’d like to allow people to be able to use video services in a way that doesn’t pick winners and losers,” he said. “We don’t want the House to come out and say, ‘You can only use this one service.’”

But some argue that the House is creating a monopoly by making every company go through an individual approval process to offer such services. Last week, the franking commission recommended that the House Administration Committee develop a policy to allow Members to post videos on outside Web sites like YouTube. However, it’s unclear what that policy will be.

Instead of making every Web developer and company go through a lengthy approval process, the House should write up requirements, said one information technology professional familiar with Capitol Hill IT issues. That way, Members would have a wealth of tools at their disposal, rather than being limited to House-specific programs.

“There is no current uniform requirement for what an external provider would need to do to reach House requirements,” said the IT professional, who was not authorized to speak with the press. “If they come up with requirements, it will allow for richer content and more capabilities.”

Hare said he thought the rules might need to be tweaked but that competition is not currently stifled. His product is geared toward politicians and trade groups, he said, and it enables them to interact effectively with constituents without advertising a product.

“I don’t think it limits competition at all,” he said. “If you want to serve Members of Congress, then you should follow their rules. You don’t have to work in that market.”