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Obama Wants to Expand Web Access to Open Up Government

Political analysts have hailed Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) use of the Internet as a fundraising and networking tool on his path to the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama sees his campaign’s technological success as a precursor to the changes he would make as president.

“The campaign’s technology activities demonstrate the important and positive role technology would play in an Obama administration, opening up the closed practices of governance to greater citizen engagement and participation and re-connecting Americans with their democracy in new ways,” his campaign Web site states.

[IMGCAP(1)] Obama’s campaign declined to answer questions for this article, but a review of the candidate’s Web site points to what telecommunication initiatives he would pursue.

The first order of business for Obama when it comes to telecom is expanding broadband Internet access.

“Let us be the generation … [to] lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America,” he said in his presidential announcement speech in February 2007.

Obama also would seek to protect the “openness of the Internet” by supporting network neutrality. Obama does not believe Internet providers should be able to charge different rates to various businesses and sites.

Doing so, his site says, “could create a two-tier Internet in which Web sites with the best relationships with network providers can get the fastest access to consumers, while all competing Web sites remain in a slower lane.”

Part of Obama’s desire to expand Internet access is explained by his vision of the Web as a way for citizens to interact with their government. Charging President Bush with running “one of the most secretive, closed administrations in American history,” Obama says he plans to reverse that by opening up government data, executive branch agency meetings, pending legislation and federal grants, contracts and lobbyist contacts to the public via the Internet.

Among the interactive experiences Obama supports are online town hall meetings with Cabinet secretaries and a five-day online review period where the public can review legislation on the president’s desk before it is signed.

Obama has passed legislation with a staunch earmark opponent, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), that would create an online database of all federal earmarks, linking them to their Congressional sponsor.

Obama also would appoint the nation’s first chief technology officer who would oversee government communication ranging from agency Internet networks to technology used by emergency first responders.

The campaign Web site boasts that more than 280,000 personal accounts have been created at and that more than 370,000 donations have been made online. So while some campaign initiatives are tossed into the wastebasket the day after inauguration, Obama guarantees that his focus on the Internet will not be merely an election year promise.

The campaign’s online movement, the site says, is “only the beginning of how Obama would harness the power of the Internet to transform government and politics.”

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