Internet brings Alaskans, government closer

If you doubt the power of the Internet to dramatically change the relationship between the public and the government, talk to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

For Alaskans, the Internet "has altered the way our people deal with government in ways that were never contemplated by our basic structure of government, including the Constitution," Stevens told a gathering of U.S. and European Internet policy specialists Wednesday.

"It's very encouraging for my state," the six-term Republican said.

Until the Internet made electronic government possible, many Alaskans had little contact with government at any level — local, state or federal — Stevens said. But information technology has begun to make Alaskan geography irrelevant. Telemedicine, distance learning and teleconferencing have become ways of life in Alaska, Stevens said. And the same technology is bringing government to the people.

For example, it's possible to apply online for a Federal Communications Commission license to operate a TV or radio station. Twenty-nine Alaskans have done so in the past year, avoiding paper mail and phone calls, Stevens told members of The European Institute.

Instantaneous communication "is a new concept for government," and it is showing signs of dramatically changing the relationship between citizens and government officials, Stevens said. There is a sense of urgency about Internet communication that seems to prompt government workers to "face questions and provide answers," he said.

If properly used, the Internet might change the stereotype of government as an unresponsive, nay-saying bureaucracy, Stevens said.

The Internet has already begun to change life in the Senate, he added. His Senate office in Washington, D.C., receives 100 to 200 e-mail messages each day from Alaskans, and eight offices across the state receive three times that volume.

"Everything we do is online," Stevens said. He posts new information on his Senate World Wide Web site daily, and information about legislation, hearings and other government activity is made available on numerous other government Web sites. Much of it provided by the Library of Congress site.

One of the requirements for senators from Alaska is to appear before the state legislature each year to report on congressional activities. "This year, we did it over the Internet so it was available to all remote Alaskans and indeed, all over the world," Stevens said.

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