Netcast nets deal for House Webcasts

After a three-month trial, an Alexandria, Va.-based company that specializes in broadcasting events over the Internet has signed a long-term agreement with the House of Representatives' Science Committee to air 50 hours a month of live testimony during committee hearings.

Under the $6,000-a-month deal, which runs until the end of this year, Netcast Inc. provides the network and all of the hardware, software, maintenance, staff training and technical expertise to bring the hearings to the World Wide Web. The company also archives all of the hearing broadcasts on the committee's Web site.

Webcasting helps "bring government much closer to people who can't attend hearings," committee spokesman Jeff Lungren said.

In May alone, he said, archived versions of hearings were accessed 4,777 times. He did not have figures for how many people have been clicking into the live broadcasts, but there were between 20 and 30 hearings that month, he said.

Broadcasting the hearings over the Internet not only serves the public at large, it also makes monitoring Capitol Hill events easier for people who need to stay on top of the daily crush of governmental events, Lungren said. "Just here on the Hill, it helps for members' staff or members of the press" who cannot make the hearings, but want to watch them, he said.

Netcast chief executive officer Blair Fuller said the company, which was founded in 1997, originally focused on performing Webcasting for the professional association market. But that market has been slower to embrace Webcasting than the government, which "has been the most explosive sector" in local Webcasting, Fuller said.

In addition to the long-term agreement with the House committee, Netcast also has broadcast individual events for such federal clients as the Navy, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration. This week, Netcast is set to broadcast three days of hearings for the Joint Economic Committee, which will include testimony from Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

The House Science Committee opted to enter into the long-term agreement with Netcast after a successful three-month trial period between the committee and the company ended last month.

Hiring Netcast, Lungren said, lets the committee broadcast hour upon hour of testimony - something that would have been tougher using the House's network. "Part of the reason we contracted with them is the House itself has only a small bandwidth available," he said. "If we and several other committees all did Webcasting, we would crash the entire system. By going with Netcast, we have a larger bandwidth."

To each job, the company brings high-powered PCs, audio and video processing hardware, hubs, modems, voltage regulators and other equipment, all of which is organized on wheeled racks. For the network connection, the company uses Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris and Compaq Computer Corp.'s ProLiant servers. Netcast also staffs a toll-free help line for end users to help them get the broadcast up and running on their computer screens.

"We provide Internet broadcasting solutions," Fuller said. "We define Internet broadcasting as the ability to deliver audio, video and multimedia content, in real time, to anybody with an Internet connection."

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