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US Congress Broadcasts Hearings Live on the Net

Congress took a step into the 21st century on Wednesday, broadcasting a hearing live over the Internet for the first time. Choosing an appropriate topic to test the waters, the Senate Science, Technology and Space subcommitee sent a live audio feed of its proceedings about online commerce and encryption software to hundreds of listeners around the world. About 40 people also participated in an online discussion with congressional staff as the hearing progressed.

"Four years ago, the presidential candidates debated over the possibility of a future online democracy," subcommittee chairman Sen. Conrad Burns said. "Today we have taken the first step in making that a reality." The Missouri Republican organised the broadcast with two groups that have nurtured online political discourse, the
Voters Telecommunication Watch and the Centre for Democracy and Technology . Progressive Network's Real Audio software made the broadcast possible. Used on a host of web sites, from National Public Radio to ABC television, Real Audio sends out a feed that can be received and played on any computer with an Internet connection and a sound card. Wednesday's hearing was the second of three concerning Senate bill 1726, the Promotion of Commerce Online in the Digital Era Act of 1996, known as the Pro-Code bill.

The proposal would ease U.S. export restrictions on software containing strong encryption features. Software industry officials said the restrictions cost them billions of dollars a year by hampering their ability to compete with overseas competitors. Encryption programmes use mathematical formulas to scramble information and render it unreadable with a password or software "key." TCI Software Research is pleased to announce that

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