Senate hearings span the globe

When the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee met this morning to make subcommittee assignments and consider operating rules for the 107th Congress, people could hear the committee proceedings in Moscow, Idaho, or in Moscow, Russia, thanks to the Internet.

Starting today, most Senate committee hearings will be Webcast by C-SPAN, the TV and radio organization dedicated to televising Congress and a wide range of public policymaking.

The Finance, Budget and Judiciary committees were also scheduled to go on the World Wide Web today.

The network is providing live audio coverage of the hearings, said Chris Long, C-SPAN's director of new media. "We thought it was fundamental to our public service mission" to provide the public with greater access to the workings of government.

Audio feeds from 26 Senate committee hearing rooms are available because the rooms have been equipped with microphones that feed into a central hub for broadcasting purposes. "It struck us as a perfect fit," Long said. C-SPAN transmits the audio signals from the Senate hub to its headquarters four blocks from the Capitol, converts them into digital signals and transmits them over its Web site, www.CapitolHearings.org.

Webcasting the audio portion of the hearings is relatively easy for C-SPAN, Long said. "We do a tremendous amount of streaming media," including Webcasts of its three TV channels and a radio channel and extensive archives of videos that can be viewed on demand.

For now, only Senate committee hearings will be Webcast. Most subcommittee hearing rooms and most House hearing rooms are not wired to provide the audio feeds C-SPAN needs to Webcast their hearings, Long said.

"This is a first step. We'll wait and see what kind of response we get to it." If the demand for access to congressional hearings warrants it, coverage might be expanded include the House and its subcommittees.

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