Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Your Tax Dollars at Work

This Independence Day, just when I thought that I couldn't get any more annoyed at the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, I discover that they've gone one better, by holding a series of hearings on MySpace.

At the first hearing on June 27, Dave Baker, Vice President for Law and Public Policy for my own home Internet Service Provider, pointed out in his testimony that filtering software could now constrain children's productive as well as receptive capacities automatically. Yipes! Do we really want to imitate the practices of authoritarian regimes in our own homes? Baker also pointed out the importance of the Interent for homework, supplementary educational experiences, and general intellectual challenge that responds to and develops curiosity.

I thought that the guy from AOL should be answering questions about the recording that captured an actual AOL customer attempting to cancel his service with a call center perso rather than heroically narrating AOL's role in fighting the "scourge" or "plague" for which the hearings had been convened. It may be digital ephemera, but that's what the American people care about. The exasperated caller recorded the labyrinthine phone call and posted it on his blog, "Insignificant Thoughts." Then the audio file, much like a recent video clip of a Comcast cable repairman sleeping when he had been put on hold by the parent company, became an Internet sensation. The story of the AOL caller's twenty-one minute Odyssey of irritation was picked up by NBC News and the New York Times. Now that large companies that market creative digital tools to users must react to having these same tools turned against them when customer service is poor. So far companies like AOL and Comcast have been apologetic.

The second day of the hearings on June 28 was devoted to content providers rather than ISP's. It featured testimony from representatives of a number of social networking sites. Even Michael Angus, the spokesman from the reprehensible information conglomerate Fox, which has acquired MySpace, made legitimate points for the value of Internet freedom of speech.

MySpace has nearly 18,000 groups dedicated to Government and Politics, more than 11,000 groups devoted to Non-Profit and Philanthropic activities, and 67,000 groups focused on Religion and Beliefs.

In the Chairman’s and Congressman Burgess’ home state of Texas, a doctor created Operation Helmet which is sending equipment upgrade kits to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide additional protection to our troops on the front lines. Operation Helmet is spreading the word and raising money through their more than one thousand friends on MySpace, and has even received praise from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

In Congressman Pickering’s home state of Mississippi, MySpace members were instrumental in lining up temporary guest housing for evacuees after Hurricane Katrina, and we are currently donating promotional support to a 501(c)3 that is rebuilding a Boys’ and Girls’ Club in Gulfport.

In Congressman Waxman’s home state of California, the Surfrider Foundation is using MySpace to build a network of friends committed to keeping our oceans and beaches clean and safe.

Even candidates for Congress are using MySpace to educate voters about the issues, register constituents to vote, and ensure they have a way to get to the polls on Election Day.

You would think that this congressional committee on energy and commerce would concern itself with global warming or high gas prices or some obviously critical issue. But a "child-safe" Internet seems to be their number one priority. Happy July 4th.

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