Live Legislature debuts on Internet

Posted: Thursday, January 03, 2002

When the Legislature convenes in 2002, every word uttered on the state record will be broadcast live on the Internet.

The second session of the 22nd Legislature will herald a new project by Juneau's public broadcasting station to stream live audio of all floor sessions and committee hearings on the World Wide Web, said Bill Legere, president and general manager of KTOO-FM & TV.

Options for remote access to Legislature:

• "Gavel-to-Gavel": Television program featuring taped and live video of floor sessions and some committee hearings. Available on cable in 30 Alaska communities, including Channel 4 in Juneau, and on the Internet at www.ktoo.org/gavel.

• Audio Project: Live audio of all floor sessions and all committee hearings plus archived recordings of the events. Available on the Internet at www.ktoo.org/gavel.

• Legislative Information Offices: The Legislative Affairs Agency provides access to about 80 percent of committee hearings. People can monitor the hearings by going to their local legislative information office and listening by teleconference. The state also furnishes audio recordings of floor sessions and hearings upon request.

"It's going to provide a level of access that's pretty rare in the country," Legere said.

KTOO already broadcasts video of some legislative events on cable television in 30 communities across the state. That coverage, called "Gavel-to-Gavel," generally shows all floor sessions but only some committee hearings. Also, the program sometimes broadcasts the events after they happen, not live.

The station this year will offer "Gavel-to-Gavel" video on the Internet along with a new program featuring only audio. The audio project is more sweeping than "Gavel-to-Gavel" because it broadcasts sound from all legislative events, not just a select few.

"We'll be able to stream up to seven different events at once," Legere said. "That's the maximum number of official proceedings that are happening in the Capitol at any one time."

With the audio project, Internet users will be able to monitor sound from all committee hearings and floor sessions as they happen, and KTOO will archive the audio so people who miss the live events may listen to the recordings later on the Internet.

"It will be permanently available for as far forward as we can see," Legere said.

The leap to the Internet means people can listen to the Legislature live from virtually anywhere in the world, said Legere, noting "anyplace where you have a telephone, you would have access to it."

Internet access to state lawmakers is a growing trend in the country, said Gene Rose, public affairs director of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Three years ago only seven states were streaming audio or video of lawmakers on the Internet, said Rose, adding that more than 30 states offer the service today. However, most states broadcast only floor sessions, he said.

Alaska "is ahead in terms of extending it to the committees," Rose said. "There's probably only a handful of other states that are going that far right now."

The KTOO venture will replace a pilot project by the Legislative Affairs Agency, which offered audio recordings of some committee hearings on the Internet last year, said Sue Gullufsen, manager of the state Information Teleconference Network.

One difference between the two projects is the state Web site offered audio of only teleconferenced committee hearings, or roughly 80 percent of the meetings, Gullufsen said. The state project also did not offer live audio, said Gullufsen, noting the Web site provided only recordings of past hearings.

"That's a significant difference," said Gullufsen, who called the KTOO project an "incredible step forward."

The KTOO project will not replace other legislative access programs run by the state, said Gullufsen, noting the Legislative Affairs Agency still will provide public access to teleconferenced committee hearings at legislative information offices statewide. The state also will continue to record all legislative events and furnish audio cassettes to the public upon request, she said.

KTOO purchased the equipment for the audio project through a $75,000 grant from the city of Juneau, said Legere, noting the station will pay ongoing costs through its "Gavel-to-Gavel" budget of about $557,000 a year.

"Gavel-to-Gavel" is funded in part by the city and private donors, including Alaska Communications System, which donated the bandwidth on the Internet, he said.

Legere said Internet users should be able to monitor "Gavel-to-Gavel" and the audio program using a 28.8 dial-up modem, but he recommended a cable modem or DSL broad-band connection for best results.

Internet users also must have software such as RealPlayer or Microsoft Media Player plus computers with sound cards and speakers, said Legere, noting most new computers come with the necessary hardware.

"Gavel-to-Gavel" and the audio project are available on the Internet at www.ktoo.org/gavel. The Legislature begins meeting Jan. 14.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com. This is the first of a series of articles previewing the start of the 2002 Legislative meetings.



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