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for (1) two-way audio-visual telecommunication at the one person-to-one, one
to-few, and few-to-few levels (videophone and videoconference), (2) one-way
audio-visual telecommunication at the one-to-few and one-to-many levels with
digital or audio response capability (teleconference and broadband cable
television), and (3) retrieval and teleprocessing of stored or real-time
information with multi-dimensional input/output capability (broadband cable
television including cable TV polling and information retrieval).
While recognizing that the actual rates of development and penetration will vary by use and location, and depend in part on uncertain regulatory, institutional, and political factors, this research proceeded on the assumption that the specified emergent channels are 11kely to become available for
potential use in the congressional-constituent communication process within
C. Potential Role for Emergent Telecommunications
1. Awareness of emergent channels. The level of congressional aware
ness and under standing of the emergent channel configurations was higher than initially anticipated. In discussing the teleconference and videoconference,
congressmen and staff evidenced considerable awareness and understanding by
frequent reference to related but already available constituent communication
channels, including principally the speakerphone and conferencephone, with the
television or radio talk show, closed circuit television, and the videotaped
interview also receiving some mention.
Congressional awareness of cable television appeared to be based more
on a general familiarity with broadcast television than specifically with cable,
which in the most basic sense simply provides additional television channels at
lower cost. Likewise, while only a few respondents made direct reference to
the AT&T Picturephone, the most publicized videophone in the United States, it
was clear that congressman and staff easily grasped the basic concept. All
offices of course make extensive use of the standard audio telephone, which the
videophone extends into the visual dimension. However, most respondents did
not grasp the more sophisticated uses of the videophone, such as for graphics
display and information retrieval.
Congressman and staff had little difficulty understanding the basic idea of polling constituents via cable television sets in the home. The level of general awareness was high because many use written polls themselves and
almost all are familiar with the use of professional public opinion polls.
Finally, congressional awareness and understanding of information
retrieval appeared to be significantly enhanced by recent activities of the House Information Systems office and earlier studies carried out by what was
then known as the Working Group on Automatic Data Processing for the House. 23
While discussing the potential of information retrieval for constituent communication, many respondents made specific reference to HIS, as well as to the community information center concept, computerized mailing, the Repub
lican National Committee's computer system, plus miscellaneous references to
computers for Congress.
23For a discussion of the current status of HIS, see n. 30. On the earlier activities of the Working Group, see U.S., Congress, House, Committee on House Administration, First Progress Report of the Special Subcommittee on Electrical and Mechanical office Equipment, 91st Congress, lst Session, prepared by the Working Group on Automatic Data Processing for the House (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, October 1969); Second Progress Report, 91st Congress, 2nd Session, October 1970; and Special Report on a Computerized Addressing and Mailing System for the House, 91st Congress, 2nd Session, December 1970. See generally Robert L. Chartrand, "Redimensioning Congressional Information Support," Jurimetrics 11 (June 1971): 165-178; and Bruce R. Hopkins, "Congressional Reform: Toward A Modern Congress," Notre Dame Lawyer 47 (February 1972): esp. 452-59.
2. Perceptions of overall potential usefulness. Analysis of the interview data on relative potential usefulness of the emergent channels-
summarized in Figure Three--indicated that, as a group, the congressmen per
ceive cable television and information retrieval as the most useful configura
tions. The videoconference and teleconference rank closely behind. The videophone and cable TV polling are viewed as least useful.
By comparison, the senior staff (primarily administrative assistants) perceive information retrieval as clearly the most useful configuration. Cable
television, teleconference, and videoconference rank lower but are still of
significant perceived usefulness. Finally, as with the members, cable TV polling and the videophone rank as least useful.
While these rankings of relative overall usefulness are similar for
both congressmen and staff, the actual data reveal greater differences. First,
except for the videophone, the staff as a group perceive the emergent configurations as potentially more useful than do the congressmen. The greatest
discrepancies are for information retrieval, which 81.9% of the AAs as against
60% of the members perceive as useful, and for cable TV polling, which 52.5% of the AAs as compared with 29.7% of the congressmen view as useful.
Further evidence of these differences is revealed by the percent agree
ment scores for the member-AA pairs. Agreement by congressmen and staff from
the same office is quite good on the usefulness of cable television, video
conference, and teleconference. But for cable TV polling and videophone, agreement is only fair. And for information retrieval, agreement is little better than fifty percent. However, regardless of some disagreement, the emergent channels--with the exception of the videophone and cable TV
polling--are viewed as potentially useful by a significant sample proportion.
Figure Three. Overall Usefulness of Emergent Telecommunication
Overall Usefulness of
Emergent Configurations Percent
for MC-AA by MCs
by AAs RIN % R
14 48.2 4 19 63.3 3 71.5
Key: N and % = number and percent of congressmen or staff perceiving an emergent configuration as very useful or useful; R = relative rank of a configuration in overall perceived usefulness.
3. Perceptions of advantages and disadvantages.
In addition to an
indication of overall potential usefulness, the congressional interviews yielded a fairly specific identification of the possible advantages and disadvantages for each emergent channel.
In the case of cable television, the most useful emergent configuration, the potential advantages of reaching more people more effectively apparently outweigh concerns about audience size, access, and cost. For information retrieval, the key benefit is the provision of more timely and relevant information to both congressmen and constituents. This advantage seems to be partially offset by possible limitations stemming from internal House politics, adequacy of current systems, insufficient constituent understanding, and invasions of privacy or abuse of privileged information.
The most important beneficial effects of the videoconference appear to
be the potential for increased communication with small groups, improvement
over current audio-only systems, and time and energy savings for congressmen
and staff. Significant disadvantages include people problems of getting a
group together, preference for person-to-person contact, and problems of time,
cost, and access.
Perceptions of the teleconference are similar except that, on the positive side, the potential seems greater for increased citizen communication (in this case with larger groups) and improved citizen participation. But on the negative side, concerns about inadequate constituent interest, cost, and losing the personal quality of communication seem to be intensified. This perhaps explains why the teleconference ranks lower than the videoconference in overall perceived usefulness.