Civic Engagement in the 21st Century


Author: Eugene Huang
Location:
MIT Tang Center, 70 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA, 02139, United States

Speaking at MIT Monday (Mar 1), Eugene Huang -- the Government Operations Director of the FCC's National Broadband Task Force -- said that after much data collection, his team came to a somewhat obvious conclusion: civic engagement is the lifeblood of our democracy.

What does broadband have to do with civic engagement? We came to the conclusion that broadband has the potential to transform civic engagement in two principal ways. First, broadband can strengthen the reach and relevance of mediated and unmediated information in our society. A healthy democracy requires an informed citizenry, and broadband can change the way that people engage this information. This is true for mediated information, such as public media. This is also true for unmediated information, such as the data the government provides citizens. Second, broadband can enable citizens to engage in their democracy - through a variety of broadband-enabled tools that will make our democracy more participatory and more representative. Broadband-enabled technologies have already revolutionized the way citizens interact with each other in the private sector. Companies such as YouTube enable the distribution of "user-generated content" over the Internet. YouTube now supports more than 120 million viewers watching more than 10 billion videos monthly. And more than 80% of U.S. adults who are online use social media at least once a month, and half of them participate in social networks such as Facebook. Today, 26% of Americans are involved in a civic or political group, and more than half of them use digital tools to communicate with other group members.

Given this context, our proposed recommendations fall into 5 areas.

  1. Open and Transparent Government
  2. Public Media
  3. Increasing Civic Engagement Through Broadband-enabled Tools
  4. Innovation
  5. Digital Democracy

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