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Shannon Henry's The Download Live
Discussion with Kimberly Jenkins
president of the Internet Policy Institute.

1 p.m. EST: Thursday, March 23, 2000

Shannon Henry
Shannon Henry

This week my guest will be Kimberly Jenkins, president of the Internet Policy Institute.

Join us Thursday at 1 P.M. and ask Kimberly about her organization's efforts to educate presidential contenders about the Internet and the possibility the medium holds for augmenting the political process.


Shannon Henry: Welcome Kimberly! Could you start off by telling us a little about the Internet Policy Institute? What are its goals and who founded the group?

Kimberly Jenkins: Hi Shannon! Thanks very much for this opportunity to communicate with folks interested in Internet policy issues. The Internet Policy Institute (IPI) was launched on Nov. 9, 1999 with the mission of conducting high quality research and outreach about a broad range of Internet policy issues. We are careful not to lobby and we are devoutly non-partisan. Our main audience is the policy decision makers. Our secondary audiences are business executives and the general public. The overall goal is to help policy leaders better understand the Internet so that they can make more informed, intelligent decisions.

Anderson, Indiana: A lot is being made of how candidates and political parties are using aspects of the Internet and emerging technology to mobilize their supporters, keep their supporters abreast of what is going on in their respective campaigns and so forth. I, however, am interested in how the Internet can help the voter become more informed. Do you believe more and more voters will be using the Internet as a primary source of electoral information? What public interest sites in your opinion are the most helpful – Project Vote Smart, Politics 1, Web White and Blue or others. Thanks

Kimberly Jenkins: Politicians have discovered the enormous power of the Internet to connect directly with voters. Their websites are used to provide in-depth coverage of their perspectives on key issues (rather than an 8 second sound bite or information that has gone through a media filter) and important campaign information (research, get out the vote issues, fund raising, etc.). The Arizona primary showed that the interest in use of the Internet for voting purposes is quite high. 25,000 people voted online in this primary. Project Vote Smart is a terrific public interest web site. It's non-partisan and very substantive. The Internet Policy Institute considers the issues you raised to be so important that we are considering holding a workshop on these issues later this year.

Shannon Henry: What's the philosophy behind your "briefing the president" project? Which candidates have you briefed so far?

Kimberly Jenkins: The "Briefing The President" project is the IPI's first public effort and it's designed to give the next President of the United States, and policymakers, business people and voters as well, information on the key issues that will govern the development of the Internet in the 21st century. We've already published papers on the structure of the Net, how the Net impacts productivity in this country, and the effect of e-commerce on the U.S. economy. We'll release a paper next week on the Net and taxation. And in the coming months we've got some really interesting authors lined up -- Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy writing about online privacy, former Department of Justice analyst Scott Charney on Net security, and Sen. Pat Leahy and Rep. Bob Goodlatte on how citizens can use the Net to connect with their elected representatives. We invited "response" papers to all of these -- and everything's available on our Web site, at http://www.internetpolicy.org!

Arlington, VA: What are the key elements of a successful political web site?

Kimberly Jenkins: It's important that the politician really connect with his or her constituents. That means that they should communicate their personality as well as their key issues and information that will make it easier for constituents to get the services they request.

Chevy Chase: A lot of people have this romaticized vision of people in their bathrobes voting in the privacy of their homes on computers. From what we know, most online polls -albiet informal polls- are easily manipulated, hackers still have a huge advantage over the policing of the net and as evidenced by DoubleClick and others privacy is an absolute joke. Is there any way to ensure that the movig the poltical process online won't just open the door for widespread corruption and manipulation. Will marketers know who we voted for? If I vote from a computer at work, does my employer have right to extarct the data to see who i voted for? I gues I'm a bit of a cynic, it just seems the vision for future is more utopia than reality.

Kimberly Jenkins: First, you should be aware that your employer has a legal right to see any information you send from your computer at work, even if it's personal information. So, voting from work might not be a good idea just for general purposes. As for "corruption and manipulation" -- these are issues even now, with traditional voting machines and procedures. This isn't to say that the software programs and procedures in use at this point for online voting are foolproof, but there are a number of companies working in this area to make online voting as safe as possible. As I noted before, IPI doesn't take a position on issues, so I can't tell you if online voting is a good idea or not. But we're certainly looking hard at the issue, and talking to a lot of people who feel the way you do about it.

Potomac Falls, Virginia: What can you possibly do to further educate the self-proclaimed inventor of the Internet?

Kimberly Jenkins: If you are referring to Vice President Al Gore, my take is that he is extremely well informed about a wide range of information technologies, including the Internet. We're also finding that Governor Bush is taking this topic very seriously. Given the importance of the Internet and the new economy today, all politicans are anxious to know as much as they can about the Internet. The best way to educate all of them is to provide independent, non-partisan information in plain English.

Allentown: Does use of cyberadvocay break down along party lines at all? Do Democrats, Republicans or other parties use the Internet more for campaigning?

Kimberly Jenkins: The short answer to your question is no. Both Republicans and Democrats -- AND the Reform and Libertarian Parties -- are very actively engaged in "pushing the envelope" on using the Internet for campaigning. At first, there were some slight differences -- Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole was the first such candidate to give out his Web site's URL on national television (during the 1996 debates), but the Clinton campaign used the Net to gather voters' email and "snail mail" addresses, for volunteering purposes, first. Actually, we're hearing from all sides that the Net is the "New 'new thing'" when it comes to campaigning.

Shannon Henry: On Briefing the President, which areas do you feel the candidates need the most instruction? Do you just offer the papers to read or do you interact with them?

Kimberly Jenkins: There seems to be a lot of interest on the social and economic issues. We've had conversations about holding a debate specifically on Internet policy issues and we're holding discussions about having regional "town hall" meetings around the country to listen to the public's concerns about Internet issues.

We publish all of the Briefing papers on our web site and encourage anyone to submit a response paper if they have an opinion about one of the topics we raise. We're also working directly with the candidates to brief them on the range of Internet issues they're confronting.

Washington, DC: I have a few questions about your organization. How many people work there? How are you funded? Also, will the workshops you hold be open to the public?

Kimberly Jenkins: The IPI is a small and very new organization with only 8 people at this point. We expect to grow, especially as we hire more research fellows to conduct studies. We have a diverse source of funding: foundations, corporations and individuals. We are committed to remaining independent so most of our funding comes from sources that honor our intent to provide nonpartisan information. Some of our workshops will be by invitation only while others will be open to the public.

Shannon Henry: You have some big-name board members--can you tell us who they are and how they're involved in the process? Also, are you working with other think tanks like Brookings on projects?

Kimberly Jenkins: We do have an extremely dynamic and diverse board with folks like Esther Dyson and Vint Cerf, both leading thinkers in the Internet space; Jim Barksdale (of Netscape), Bob Herbold (of Microsoft), George Vradenburg (of AOL) and others from the corporate world; Wayne Clough (President of Georgia Tech), and professors from Columbia and U. of Washington. The most policy oriented board members are Ira Magaziner and Newt Gingrich, which seems to provide nice balance! All of these board members are deeply committed to and quite passionate about helping policy leaders understand the Internet better. Consequently, they are quite active. We work with a number of other think tanks and academic organizations. Right now we are collaborating with Brookings on a study directed by Alice Rivlin and Bob Litan.

Lynchburg: In just the last few months, there's been a subtle yet important shift in the rhetoric surrounding the digital divide. For perhaps the first time we're hearing people from Al Gore on down speaking of access to the network as a fundamental right rather than a privilege. Is this the year that we begin
having a national dialogue on this point?

Kimberly Jenkins: That's an excellent question, and very important. Yes, there has been a subtle shift in the "rhetoric" surrounding the Digital Divide -- some recent studies report that the number of African-Americans and Hispanics who own computers is increasing dramatically in certain income groups. There's even been talk in the media of the Digital Divide being "a myth." We're looking closely at this issue, and we hear that, far from being a myth, the Digital Divide is quite real -- but its parameters have changed. Now the disparities are international (between developed and undeveloped nations), economic (between higher and lower income groups as a whole), and based on specific abilities to use computers (it's more difficult for physically-challenged computer owners to use their computers, for example). We hope that a national -- and international --dialogue begins to take place on this topic this year.

Downtown DC: Bush or Gore?

Kimberly Jenkins: Oh, I just put my crystal ball away! Seriously, both presidential campaigns are Internet-savvy, and both are definitely looking to the Net community for volunteers and supporters. You've heard, no doubt, about the massive fundraising capabilities of the Internet, particularly as experienced by John McCain's campaign. Funds and volunteers are the lifeblood of any campaign, no matter which party it represents. As for my personal vote, that's still a matter between me and my voting machine -- whether it's "online" or not!

Washington, D.C.: How much do you think a candidate should spend on getting a presence on the Web? Is it really worth it?

Kimberly Jenkins: It's impossible to give an exact dollar figure in answer to this question -- that depends on what you want to do with the Web site. Do you want to be interactive? Do you want just to have a "home page" to identify you? Do you want to send out mailings to volunteers over the Internet? Campaign experiences over the past few years have taught that candidates can spend as much or even as little as they wish, and still be successful -- Phil Madsen, who coordinated Jesse Ventura's successful campaign for Minnesota governor, for example, has said that he spent less than $10,000 on Ventura's entire Web effort. But the Ventura campaign attracted many volunteers. So that shows you that there are more factors at play than just campaign outreach methods.

Wash DC: When will we use the Internet to vote for elected officials?

Kimberly Jenkins: If you mean "when will we vote for President" on the Net -- that's going to take a good bit of time. Questions of security, voter identification, technical standards, and, most importantly, access -- how to make online voting available to voters who don't own computers -- will all have to be answered first. But if you're thinking of voting for local or state officials, there have already been experiments in that area. I mentioned the Arizona Democratic primary. There have also been a couple of trials of online voting for a local office in Washington state, and several of the online voting companies have used the technology to organize voting for union leadership positions.

Rockville: Is the Internet an effective campaign tool, and how would a candidate use it in a presidential campaign today?

Kimberly Jenkins: I'm not an expert here, but I can tell you some of the stories I've heard about ways the Net has already been used effectively in campaigns. It's a good tool for organizing and alerting volunteers because it can disperse information to thousands of people instantaneously. The interactive features of the Internet have provided a way for some candidates to hold dialogues with potential voters, and hear about their concerns and interests. And some candidates have even used the Net to disperse bumper stickers and campaign leaflets. As for using the Net in a presidential campaign, you can look at the Gore and Bush campaigns for the newest techniques -- both of these campaigns, as I've noted, are very "Net-savvy"!

Chicago, IL: Does e-mailing my opinion to Congress really make a difference? Do they read them?

Kimberly Jenkins: Letting your elected representatives know if you have a strong opinion on an issue is not only a good idea, but your right as a citizen. As to whether emails "make a difference" -- there are conflicting reports in the media about that issue. But the public-interest people we work with tell us that it's always a good idea to send a "snail mail" letter, along with an email, when you contact your representatives. That way you're making doubly sure that your voice is heard.

Shannon Henry: We're out of time. Kimberly, thanks for joining us today!

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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