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e-Democracy update - 15/3/06

15 March, 2006
By Daniel Macpherson

South Korean city becomes e-democracy model

Gangnam District Mayor Kwon Moon-Yong says he has used the internet to help make decisions on over 480 policies since September 2001.

"The district is operating a cyber system of administrative participation where key policies are determined by the citizens," says Mayor Kwon.

He also says since 2002 the district has been setting the priority of project budgets through internet polls.

Residents receive emails and participate in online polls about policies in their district and can also directly suggest new policies on the district’s website.

Mayor Kwon says the success of the system is due to the participation and interest of the citizens, with over 330,000 of the 540,000 residents in Gangnam registered to the email list.

Political bloggers protected in US

A US House of Representatives committee last week approved a bill to make bloggers immune to federal election regulations.

The bill amends campaign finance laws to give Internet publishers the freedom to publish without scrutiny from the US Federal Electoral Commission.

US Democrats blocked an earlier version of the bill last November.

"We don't expect bloggers to check with a federal agency before they go online," House Administration Committee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (Rep, Michigan) said.

"They shouldn't have to read FEC advisory opinions, or hire federal election lawyers to make sure what they are doing is legal. They should be able to express their views on politics and politicians without having to worry about running afoul of our election laws."

Critics have argued the reform could invite corrupt activities online. The New York Times wrote an editorial that said the Internet "would become a free-fire zone without any limits on spending".

The bill’s approval comes as the FEC is scheduled to vote on March 16 on regulations governing political speech on the Internet, which is expected to be under review by the House of Representatives.

Politics tops topics of Arab bloggers

A recent online study shows Arab bloggers have strong interests in politics.

The study covers over 4,500 blogs on Arab site Maktoob.com and shows a heavy interest in politics with 40 per cent of bloggers discussing issues such as the Denmark cartoon controversy and the Iran nuclear stand-off.

Cultural topics, at 25 percent, came in second, with literature, entertainment and internet issues following closely.

Maktoob.com Chief Executive Officer Samih Toukan says the results of the study are not surprising since people in the Arab world are extremely passionate about the issues that affect them.

"With the blog phenomenon becoming a craze worldwide, Maktoob.com is uniquely positioned to provide a forum to bloggers in the Arab world that can address an audience of over 4.5 million users."

Maktoob.com also has regular blog writers from Australia.

Lawmakers and industry debate net neutrality

US lawmakers and industry specialists have discussed the possibility of tiered Internet systems that would require certain companies to pay more for their access.

At the Voice over the Net (VON) conference at the San Jose Convention Center on Tuesday, companies from both sides of the communication technology industry debated net neutrality and whether or not laws are needed.

CEOs from US network owners AT&T and Verizon Communications have commented on plans to create systems where certain companies would have to pay more for their data-intensive use of the Net.

They argue this intensive usage slows access for regular customers.

Companies such as Google, eBay and Yahoo say they are against any companies taking on the role of "IP traffic gatekeeper".

Meanwhile, a key senator says a much-anticipated proposal to overhaul U.S. telecommunications laws may not require network providers to follow Net neutrality principles.

Alaskan Republican and Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens says he supports the idea of Net neutrality in principle.

"But I don't know yet what's going to be in the bill," he said.

"It's going to take votes of the committee to put things in the bill. We're going to have an enormous number of items that people want to put in."

Earlier this month, Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden introduced a bill that bars network providers from blocking internet connections and favoring companies that pay for faster access.

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