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FCC.gov: Political Exclusion Through Bad UI

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, June 17 2009

There was one illuminating exchange in yesterday's otherwise vapid Senate confirmation hearing of Julius Genachowski. Senate Commerce Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) raised the idea that the impression that the Federal Communications Commission is "captured by industry" isn't helped by the fact that, to borrow from a 2007 GAO report, "it is nearly impossible to find information on the FCC's website...and much of the data filed with the commission is not even accessible online." Meanwhile, said Rockefeller, FCC staffers are personally calling telecom industry stakeholders to let them know when important votes and other events are coming up.

In other words, the FCC's website at FCC.gov is a case study in obfuscation through ugliness, an unequal political playing field tilted worse by horrid user interface. Genechowski, who studiously avoided making any news during the hearing, responded in broad strokes: "If confirmed, my goal would be for the FCC website and new media operation to be a model for the government." But the exchange still puts a new point on why new media work is so important, no more so than at a powerful agency like the FCC.

The hearing itself, though, offered an example of why that change will take more than good intentions. The Wall Street Journal's Amy Schatz tweeted: "At hearing for FCC's Genachowski, so many lobbyists trying to get in, the line stretched down two flights of stairs." Schatz also has a more substantive account of the hearing.