NPTN TELEDEMOCRACY PROGRAM: SUMMARY Engraved in stone across the entrance to the Library of Congress are these words by James Madison: "A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." The men who founded this country knew how well those words applied to the major medium of their day, the printed word. Those who followed made similar use of other communications media, such as radio and television, to further close the gap between governor and governed. In our generation we are faced with the development of yet another major means of communications, a new medium, known as telecomputing. What remains to be seen is how this medium will be used to enhance the democratic process. The purpose of the NPTN Teledemocracy Project is to explore that question. For the past six years researchers at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) have been developing a highly cost-efficient means of delivering computerized information and communications services to the community. This work has resulted in two major products. The first is the Cleveland Free-Net, the nation's first completely free, open-access, community computer system; and second, the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN), a spin-off nonprofit organization, which establishes Free-Net community computer systems in other cities and links them together into a common network. These systems work as follows: A multi-user computer is established at a central location and is connected to the telephone system through a series of devices known as modems. Running on this machine is a program which provides its users with everything from electronic mail services, to information about health care, education, technology, recreation, law, or just about anything else the host operators would like to place on the machine. Anyone in the community with access to a home, office, or school computer can connect to the system, 24 hours a day, and utilize these services. All of it is free, and all of it can easily be accomplished by a first-time user. The first such system, the Cleveland Free-Net, is now a major communications and information resource serving northeast Ohio, averaging over 3500 logins a day from a registered user base of over 12,000 people. NPTN has five systems formally affiliated with it (in Cleveland, Youngstown, Cincinnati, Medina County, Ohio and Peoria, Illinois), and is expected to add at least another five systems by the end of this calendar year. These systems represent, in effect, the laboratory from which the project is run. The Teledemocracy Project is proceeding in three distinct stages: Stage One has involved us in establishing several significant governmental information services on each of the public access community computer systems. Stage two, called "Campaign '90," involved us in studying how these public access computers can best be utilized by candidates for public office to interact with the electorate, and by the electorate to learn more about the candidates. Stage three will involve two major branches. The first will be to establish "electronic office space" for as many public officials and city/county governments as we can, in order to study the interaction between these elected officials and their constituencies over time. The second branch will involve us with a major educational campaign whereby curricula will be devised at levels ranging from secondary schools, to college, to adult education classes, which will teach even more people how to use this technology to become better citizens. STAGE ONE: Stage One involved us in establishing several major governmental information services across the NPTN network. The two most notable of these were the Congressional Memory Project and Project Hermes. The Congressional Memory Project is a service being carried out by NPTN in conjunction with the Washington Times Corporation. Each week six congressional bills are summarized (three on the House side and three on the Senate) and placed on each of the NPTN community computer systems. Along with each bill is a list showing how each member of the Ohio (or Illinois) congressional delegation voted on that measure. These bills are searchable by subject and, within each file, by keyword. As with all Free-Net services, they may be viewed by any member of the community who wishes to call in and use the system. At the moment there are about 65 bills in the database with six more being added each week. Money is being sought to type in these bills retrospectively going back to at least January 1st, 1990. We suspect that this service, which is already very popular, will find increasing interest as election time draws near. Project Hermes is a service being provided by the U.S. Supreme Court whereby decisions are sent electronically to CWRU within minutes of their release by the Court. CWRU, in turn, processes and makes them available to a large list of academic institutions throughout the country, as well as posts them on each of the NPTN affiliated community computer systems. Thus, via Project Hermes, citizens throughout Ohio and the nation can be reading the full-text of Supreme Court decisions within 15-20 minutes of their release in Washington D.C. This represents a governmentally-related information resource which, heretofore, was utterly unavailable to the average citizen without going to a specialized library, usually months after a decision was rendered. Other Stage One activities include: making electronically available to the business community a wide variety of U.S. Department of Commerce weekly economic data; and, hopefully soon, providing a service similar to Project Hermes for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Ohio Supreme Court. STAGE TWO Stage two of the Teledemocracy Project was dubbed "Campaign '90." Campaign '90 actually began during the last presidential campaign when both major candidates were criticized by the press for not making their positions clear with regard to the substantive issues of the day. The candidates, in turn, criticized the press for not utilizing the myriad position papers and other documents they produced. During Campaign U90 (last fall) we launched a concerted effort to collect and archive on each Free-Net system any and all documents released by the major candidates which dealt with their position on various issues. These files were searchable and downloadable by the electorate. The two major gubernatorial candidates in Ohio were especially invited to participate in this forum; and, with the cooperation of the Ohio League of Women Voters we were able to provide at least a capsule sketch of all candidates running for office at whatever level in each relevant county. But telecomputing is an interactive medium so, in addition to these static files, we will be offering all major candidates "electronic campaign office space" on at least the Cleveland system whereby they will not only be able to post their press releases, etc. but will be able to engage in a question and answer dialogue with the electorate. If sufficient funds can be located, we would also like to involve area high school and college government classes in this process as well. This will be the first use anywhere of free open-access community computer systems to directly enhance the electoral process; and presents a marvelous opportunity to learn more about their effectiveness in this role. STAGE THREE As mentioned above, Stage three will involve two major branches. In the first we will begin a long-term program to establish permanent electronic office space for as many public officials and city/county governments as we can. This will allow cities and counties to post information about its services and facilities, provide information services to its citizens such as City/County Council meeting minutes, and have question and answer forums available where officials can clear-up the many questions and problems that people have. It will also allow elected representatives from Washington and Columbus to have electronic mail contact with their constituents and be able to post, among other things, summaries of their activities. In this regard, we already have online several city and/or county governments in the tri-state area around Cincinnati, in Medina County, and in Cleveland. The second branch will involve us with a major educational campaign whereby curricula will be devised at levels ranging from secondary schools, to college, to adult education classes, which will teach even more people how to use this technology to make them better citizens. This will, however, involve a larger funding base than what is available to us at the moment. Whether we are going to enter an Information Age is no longer at issue. We are. The only question which remains is what we, as a nation and as a society, are going to do about it. The Teledemocracy Project is one small attempt at developing the technology necessary to bring the citizens of two states into that Information Age and study the impact of this new technology on the governmental process. There is no way we can imagine a governmental structure of the 21st Century which does NOT include telecomputing as one means of communicating with and informing the people; and, if that is so, then let that developmental process begin now.