Congress and the Internet
In the nearly three decades since personal computers were introduced, they have revolutionized interaction between Congress and its constituents. In 1969, there were only three computers on the entire Capitol campus. The first computers introduced in the House of Representatives provided basic word processing and accounting functions to assist in the administrative tasks of running a congressional office. By 1975, computers became a common fixture in most congressional offices. To assist Member offices in modernizing their offices, Members were granted computer allowances in their operating budgets and given personalized training classes. By the start of the 106th Congress (1999–2001), freshman Member orientation was supplemented with a computer tutorial featuring the House office buildings and the Capitol.
Although a precise date is difficult to pinpoint, electronic mail, or e-mail, was first used internally by the House of Representatives in the early 1980s. External e-mail began in the mid-1990s, permitting the public to contact Member offices 24 hours a day. The Internet provided a new level of accessibility to Congress. The mid-to late-1990s launch of congressional Web sites, such as the House of Representatives Web site, Member Web sites, committee Web sites, the Library of Congress THOMAS Web site, and the Online Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, granted the public instant access to information which once required weeks and even months to obtain.
With the advent of social networking and new wireless computer technologies, Members of Congress have embraced the new forms of media. From social media Web sites to online video, blog, and Twitter accounts, Members use these resources to provide greater accessibly for their constituents.
|June 2, 1993||The House Administration Committee announced a pilot program that established a “Constituent Electronic Mail System,” marking the first time that citizens could communicate directly with their Members of Congress via an electronic gateway to the Internet. Still unsure about the new technology, Members replied to their constituents via postal mail.|
|1994||The Government Printing Office offered digital copies of the Congressional Record for a fee.|
|Late 1994||The House of Representatives launched its first Web site accessible from the Internet: www.house.gov. The Senate followed suit with the launch of www.senate.gov nearly a year later. The House Web site permitted users to research the U.S. Code and the Code of Federal Regulations as well as links to congressional information.|
|Jan. 5, 1995||The Library of Congress launched THOMAS, a Web site devoted to tracking legislation in Congress. The launch of THOMAS in 1995 ended the Government Printing Office fee-based electronic Congressional Record.|
|Aug. 1995||Approximately 40 House Members maintained congressional office Web sites, which included press releases and biographical information.|
|1996||FedNet began webcasting audio coverage of House and Senate Floor proceedings and committee hearings. By June of 1996, 216 House Members had their own Web sites.|
|Sept. 1996||The House Committee on Oversight determined that a Member’s congressional Web site could not contain personal information beyond a biography. Campaign or fundraising information by House Rules was not permitted on the Web site. The ruling also determined that a committee’s minority members may have a Web site separate from that of the majority membership.|
|July 30, 1997||The Clerk of the House launched a Web site with the formation of the Legislative Resource Center, to provide information about lobbying, history, and archives. It also featured the balanced budget legislation of 1997.|
|Jan. 20, 1997||FedNet broadcast the first live coverage of a Presidential Inauguration.|
|Nov. 1998||The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress went live on the Internet. With 15 previous print editions spanning back to 1854, the online Directory provided up-to-date information on Members of Congress to researchers around the world.|
|2000||The House of Representatives received e-mails at the rate of more than 48 million a year.|
|May 4, 2000||The “I Love You” virus attacked computers on Capitol Hill and around the world. Slowing communication in Member offices, this virus was one of many designed to disrupt a world now dependent on computers and e-mail.|
|2001||The personal, portable e-mail device was introduced on Capitol Hill, allowing Members of Congress and their staff to be connected to e-mail, the Internet, and their office around the clock. On Capitol Hill, it was intended as an added security measure to keep Members and key staff in constant communication during a crisis. The rules of the House of Representatives were altered to allow the usage of these devices on the House Floor by Members, but still prohibited the use of personal computers.|
|Jan. 29, 2002||President George W. Bush’s State of the Union message, delivered to a Joint Session of Congress in the House Chamber, was the first such speech webcast live in streaming video.|
|2005||In 2005 the Capitol telephone switchboard received more than 30,000 calls per week. This was a marked decrease from the 1983 statistic of Capitol operators receiving more than 22,000 calls a day. The decrease in calls was due to the rising popularity of e-mails during this period. Based on 2002 statistics, on average the House received 234,245 e-mail messages a day, amounting to more than 88 million e-mails a year.|
|2008||A 2008 study noted that more than 65 percent of constituents contact lawmakers via e-mail.|
|Jan. 11, 2009||The House of Representatives launched its own “channel” on YouTube, called “House Hub.”|
|April 26, 2010||The Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives launched a beta version of HouseLive to provide live, gavel-to-gavel streaming video of House Floor debate. The Web site was created to increase public access to House proceedings.|
|June 30, 2010||Representative Charles Djou of Hawaii became the first individual to use an electronic device during a House Floor speech. In the 112th Congress (2011–2013), House Leadership amended the House Rules to permit the use of mobile electronic devices so long as it does not impair decorum.|