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NCSL: Wireless Broadband: Answering the Call

Around 100 people are attending a luncheon. The focus is on the advantages of broadband, areas with broadband see housing values increase and improved healthcare delivery. Concerns are presented about tax issues, consistency of policy from state to state and private sector access. The speakers thank people who helped make the luncheon possible, AT&T, Cisco, Comcast, Dell, Ebay, Time Warner, Verizon and others.

The keynote speaker is Steve Largent, former NFL Football player, Republican Congressman from Oklahoma, and now head of CTIA, the Wireless Association. The board of directors of CTIA includes people from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and so on.

During the keynote, Steve shows a video, “Wireless There’s Magic in The Air.” It traces the history of wireless in the United States, leading up to a futuristic view set in 2015.

He points out a survey by MyWireless.org. Like their website, he doesn’t mention that MyWireless.org is an offshoot of CTIA. (See this article from Common Cause about MyWireless.org).

He focuses on tax policy and regulatory policy. He encourages legislators to ask regulators if their policies “will reduce or increase the costs of companies providing wireless services.” It seems like the question is not if it will reduce or increase costs to companies, but will it increase or reduce costs and options for individuals.

One person asks what State Legislatures should do where there are rural districts that national carriers aren’t building out in. “I can tell you that we’re coming,” he answers. The 700 mhz auction will help greatly. “It is just a matter of time.”

There are subsequent questions about identity theft and the number of lives saved by e911 services, number portability, safe driving and issues about placing of cell towers,.

It is interesting that in the crowd, I am the only person with a laptop, even though there is WiFi available throughout the conference. The industry association is out in force. I speak with a representative from T-Mobile at the end of the keynote. Yet there is very little representation from those fighting for more open telecommunication policies.

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NCSL, Initial Impressions

This morning, before heading over to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) annual conference, I read some emails, including some with State Legislators that aren’t attending. Over the next week or two, I’ll be leading sessions at various places about blogging.

One of the great half truths of blogging is that anyone can do it. On one level, this is true. Just got to Blogger, Wordpress, or many other free sites, and set up your blog. You don’t even need a computer or internet connection of your own. There are many places where you can get online for free, such as public libraries, government centers, or even convention halls.

However, there is more to blogging than just having access to a free website. You have to have something to say and have people that will read it. You can get a lot to say by visiting meetings like the NCSL annual meeting or YearlyKos. Yet these are expensive. Even if you can get press credentials and attend for free, you still have costs like travel expenses. I just couldn’t swing the expense of going to YearlyKos this year. NCSL is a bit more affordable. I took Amtrak up from Stamford which is fairly economical. I’m staying at a friend’s house in Boston, so the expenses remain small, but still signficiant.

I think of all the people that have important things to say, but can’t afford to get to important gatherings like this or YearlyKos.

At NCSL, the staff is incredibly friendly. Many people have greeted me and asked if I need help. Perhaps some of it comes from working in a profession that needs to keep constituents happy. Perhaps some of it is that my hair is a little shaggy and the ‘Blogger’ embroidered on my shirt identifies me as not your typical legislative staffer.

There are many people who are here with their families. Kids are going out for walks on the Freedom Trail. The book store has great children’s books about getting involved in Government. Many people are greeting old friends with big hugs. Is NCSL a homecoming week for State Legislators, a great time to see old friends and visit interesting cities, paid for, in part, I imagine by state taxes?

Staying with the ‘follow the money’ meme, a large exhibition hall is in the process of getting set up. Computers flank the side of the entrance hall advertising SGAC.ORG, Connecting the business community with NCSL and State Legislators for more than 30 years. I wonder where DFA, and other groups connection State Legislators with grassroots constituents for a few years now. I know that the Progressive States Network will be here on Tuesday, but I have to miss there session.

So, it is now time to check in and plan my afternoon.

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IM and Thou

“You have my constant partial attention”, I posted in a comment as I glanced at my buddy list to see who was IMing me. In the lower right hand corner of the screen, little boxes appeared and disappeared as friends updated their statuses on Facebook. My phone chirped with text messages sent from friends on Twitter.

Neil Diamond’s ”IM, I said, to no one there, and no one heard at all” rang through my head. Yes, it does sometimes seem like this constant partial attention is nothing but IMing to nobody. Maybe this disquieting existence somewhere between being in constant contact with more people than ever was possible before and yet not really connecting with other people is all the more poignant to me right now as I sit in a place of unknowing about where I will live, what work I will do, and how I will manage to feed my family.

Perhaps this longing for real connections is why I am seeing so many people talking about how happy they are to be at YearlyKos in their Facebook statuses and their messages on Twitter. There are people at YearlyKos that have become close friends whom I have never met and whom I would have loved to meet face to face in Chicago.

Yes, this place of unknowing is uncomfortable, both in terms of what is going on personally, as well as what is going on with our online relationships. However, this place of unknowing is also where we can learn important things about ourselves and our relationships to people around us.

Too often, I’ve only glanced at the low priority emails, the IMs, the statuses updates, the Twitter messages and the blog posts that don’t catch my attention and let them pass me by without taking time to think about the underlying message that unifies all of them. Too often I haven’t listened to the collected digital unconscious or tried to view the digital palimpsest that all these messages build up.

As I got ready to leave for Boston this afternoon, I tried to whittle down the hundreds of unread emails to a more manageable size. Some messages I just deleted after glancing at the subject lines. Others I moved to folders that I’ll check again if the need ever arises, but they will most likely remain unread. Some received a little red flag to remind me to check the message again when I have more time.

Now, I’m on the train. I sent a message on my cell to Twitter and Facebook, which will get replicated via RSS to my blog and to Jaiku letting anyone who is paying constant partial attention to me that I am on my way to Boston.

The accumulated messages fade into the distance, like the evening lit swamps by the side of the railroad tracks. The swamps are lonely, empty, forsaken places that also contain great beauty if you look closely enough. As the train passes, I see beautiful birds take flight.

The success of a child using the potty for the first time is an important milestone and the mommy who is spending all her time talking with young children needs some friendly adult ears that can share the joy. They make for important blog posts. The remembrance of a special day with a loved one who lost the battle with cancer a few years ago is sacred and needs to be revered by all that pass by online.

In college, I read Martin Buber’s “I and Thou” and often think about how we treat the people around us as things. We relate to them as ‘its’ instead of ‘thous’. In these days of IMs and constant partial attention, it seems even easier to relate to those around us as ‘its’, as objects no different than bots that have passed their Turing test.

Can we learn to listen to the collective digital unconscious? Can we learn to connect with the sacred in those around us online? I believe we can, if we work on it. In doing so, our own writing will gain new meaning, our political advocacy will gain new depth. Please join me in seeking the “IM and Thou”.

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NCSL Pre Game, Continued

This evening, I shall be heading up to Boston to blog the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Like any such blogging outing, I like to spend a little bit of time ahead of time getting my bearings. This entry will provide a little insight into my thoughts going up.

When Gov. Dean ended his 2004 Presidential bid, he encouraged his supporters to run for office. It was probably the first time that I gave any serious consideration to state legislatures. Kim decided to run for State Rep., and I was surprised to find that 85% of people don’t know who their State Reps are. People asked Kim if she would have to move to Washington if she were elected State Representative.

Over the following years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people, especially through Democracy for America, that are very interested in State Legislatures. Many important legislative decisions are made at the State level, and State Legislatures are a great farm team for the U.S. Congress. It is shocking how many State Legislative races go uncontested.

Years before all of this, I was at a financial services conference where Eliot Spitzer, who was Attorney General in New York at the time, spoke about the importance of state government in response to pressures from federalists. As the federalists get more issues pushed down to the state level, state legislatures become even more important.

It was through a group of liberal bloggers focused on regional issues that I first got the idea of attending the NCSL annual meeting. As I searched around, I found that Bill Hobbs from the Media Bloggers Association attended last years NCSL annual meeting as a blogger and I was glad to see focus interested in the role of blogs in our media ecology covering the event.

I’ve spent some time reading through press releases, the schedule for NCSL, contacting various State Legislators and activist groups and slowly the narrative I’m expecting begins to emerge.

Back when I was in high school, I went to a symposium at Williams College where Lester Thurow was a keynote speaker. He spoke about how as the basic needs of people could be met by fewer workers, more and more time would be spent arguing about how wealth would be distributed. That idea has stuck with me. When Kim was running, I remember Gov. Dean commenting about how much of the time in State Government ends up being about the allocation of resources.

Grover Norquist is often quoted as wanting to get government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” It has been suggested that he should have borrowed Bush’s Mission Accomplished sign to put up over New Orleans.

One of the methods to shrink the Federal Government has been to push programs off on to the States, but not fund them. In response, lawmakers at the NCSL annual meeting will on the schooner Roseway on Sunday afternoon for a modern Boston Tea Party.

State lawmakers will show their displeasure with the growing number of unfunded mandates and cost shifts passed along to the states by the federal government.

I expect to hear a lot of talk about cost effectiveness of various proposed programs. I sure hope that is the case. However, I do have some doubts.

As I read through the program, I find NCSL gratefully acknowledging ‘the National Grid/KeySpan for the continental breakfast’, ‘AT&T for breakfast ‘, ‘LexisNexis for lunch’, ‘Propylon for dinner’, ‘Wyeth Pharmaceuticals for this reception.’, ‘Zipporah Films for this session’, and ‘AstraZeneca for this tour’.

Concurrent with this, I received an email on a different list about eGovernment. These are from my activists friends who seem primarily driven by a love of technology or a desire to make the government more open. I hold both of these positions, yet what needs to be talked about is how eGovernment could make various government services more cost effective. I hope I’ll see a little bit of that too.

Beyond that, I will be looking at various initiatives on education and childcare, broadband, supporting local agriculture and other rural initiatives. I will be looking closely at how well different state legislatures understand the importance of the emerging regional political blogs. I will be looking at if any state legislatures are taking advantage of blogs, citizen journalism, and even high school journalism to get their message out and further their agendas.

It should be a fun few days. If you have thoughts on the annual meeting, or issues you would like me to pursue, please leave me a message and I’ll see what I can do. Then, stop back and lets see what really happens at the NCSL annual meeting.

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What are we teaching our children?

As United States citizens, we hold dear the right to vote and the promise of free and open elections. If we do not hold ourselves to these standards, and the standards of freedom of information, the U.S. Constitution and the Connecticut Constitution, what are we teaching our children?

Last night during his keynote speech at YearlyKos, Gov. Dean spoke about the importance of reaching out to the youth. As people get into the habit of voting, they stay in the habit. This afternoon, I listened to a panel about problems with voting suppression. So, when I found the above quote, it caught my attention.

However, the quote wasn’t from an article about voting machines or requirements for photo ids. It was from a Freedom of Information (FOI) complaint filed in Burlington, CT.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Avery Doninger. She was class secretary at Lewis S. Mills High School, but was not allowed to run for reelection because she had referred to the school superintendent as a “douchbag” in a blog post. Her mother is now suing the school.

The Cool Justice Report quotes a student at the school as saying,

"On the day of elections everyone (I mean everyone) wrote in the girls name next to 'Secretary' and circled it. At the end of the day when they had to tell us who won they said that the elections were so close that they were going to give kids who weren't there a chance to vote the next day. The girl who won only had like 7 votes because everyone voted for the girl who wasn't running."

Based on this, he is trying to get a copy of the ballots and there is a lot of legal wrangling back and forth. This was the context for the quote above.

Well, Andy is asking the right question. What are we teaching our children? Perhaps the folks at Lewis S. Mills High School are teaching the right message, after all, in a convoluted manner. They are teaching our children the importance of constant vigilance in defending things that keeps our country strong, like freedom of speech and free and open elections.

I wish all of the students luck in this most important lesson.