Engraved in stone across the entrance to the Library of 
Congress are these words by James Madison: "A popular government 
without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but
a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.  Knowledge 
will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their 
own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge 

   The men who founded this country knew how well those words 
applied to the major medium of their day, the printed word. 
Those who followed made similar use of other communications
media, such as radio and television, to further close the gap
between governor and governed.  In our generation we are faced
with the development of yet another major means of
communications, a new medium, known as telecomputing.  What
remains to be seen is how this medium will be used to enhance the
democratic process.  The purpose of the NPTN Teledemocracy
Project is to explore that question.

   For the past six years researchers at Case Western Reserve     
University (CWRU) have been developing a highly cost-efficient 
means of delivering computerized information and communications 
services to the community.  This work has resulted in two major 
products.  The first is the Cleveland Free-Net, the nation's
first completely free, open-access, community computer system;
and second, the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN), a
spin-off nonprofit organization, which establishes Free-Net
community computer systems in other cities and links them
together into a common network.  

   These systems work as follows:

   A multi-user computer is established at a central location 
and is connected to the telephone system through a series of 
devices known as modems.  Running on this machine is a program 
which provides its users with everything from electronic mail 
services, to information about health care, education,
technology, recreation, law, or just about anything else the host
operators would like to place on the machine.  Anyone in the
community with access to a home, office, or school computer can
connect to the system, 24 hours a day, and utilize these
services.  All of it is free, and all of it can easily be
accomplished by a first-time user.

   The first such system, the Cleveland Free-Net, is now a major 
communications and information resource serving northeast Ohio, 
averaging over 3500 logins a day from a registered user base of 
over 12,000 people.  NPTN has five systems formally affiliated 
with it (in Cleveland, Youngstown, Cincinnati, Medina County,
Ohio and Peoria, Illinois), and is expected to add at least
another five systems by the end of this calendar year.  These
systems represent, in effect, the laboratory from which the
project is run.

   The Teledemocracy Project is proceeding in three distinct 
stages:  Stage One  has involved us in establishing several 
significant governmental information services on each of the 
public access community computer systems.  Stage two, called 
"Campaign '90," involved us in studying how these public access 
computers can best be utilized by candidates for public office to
interact with the electorate, and by the electorate to learn more
about the candidates.  Stage three will involve two major
branches.  The first will be to establish "electronic office 
space" for as many public officials and city/county governments
as we can, in order to study the interaction between these
elected officials and their constituencies over time.  The second
branch will involve us with a major educational campaign whereby 
curricula will be devised at levels ranging from secondary 
schools, to college, to adult education classes, which will teach
even more people how to use this technology to become better 


   Stage One involved us in establishing several major 
governmental information services across the NPTN network.  The 
two most notable of these were the Congressional Memory Project 
and Project Hermes.

   The Congressional Memory Project is a service being carried 
out by NPTN in conjunction with the Washington Times Corporation. 
Each week six congressional bills are summarized (three on the    
House side and three on the Senate) and placed on each of the
NPTN community computer systems.  Along with each bill is a list 
showing how each member of the Ohio (or Illinois) congressional 
delegation voted on that measure.  These bills are searchable by 
subject and, within each file, by keyword.  As with all Free-Net 
services, they may be viewed by any member of the community who 
wishes to call in and use the system.  At the moment there are 
about 65 bills in the database with six more being added each 
week.  Money is being sought to type in these bills 
retrospectively going back to at least January 1st, 1990.  We 
suspect that this service, which is already very popular, will 
find increasing interest as election time draws near.

   Project Hermes is a service being provided by the U.S. 
Supreme Court whereby decisions are sent electronically to CWRU 
within minutes of their release by the Court.  CWRU, in turn, 
processes and makes them available to a large list of academic 
institutions throughout the country, as well as posts them on
each of the NPTN affiliated community computer systems.  Thus,
via Project Hermes, citizens throughout Ohio and the nation can
be reading the full-text of Supreme Court decisions within 15-20  
minutes of their release in Washington D.C.  This represents a 
governmentally-related information resource which, heretofore,
was utterly unavailable to the average citizen without going to a
specialized library, usually months after a decision was

   Other Stage One activities include: making electronically 
available to the business community a wide variety of U.S. 
Department of Commerce weekly economic data; and, hopefully soon,
providing a service similar to Project Hermes for the 8th Circuit
Court of Appeals, and the Ohio Supreme Court.

   Stage two of the Teledemocracy Project was dubbed "Campaign

   Campaign '90  actually began during the last presidential 
campaign when both major candidates were criticized by the press 
for not making their positions clear with regard to the 
substantive issues of the day.  The candidates, in turn, 
criticized the press for not utilizing the myriad position papers 
and other documents they produced.  During Campaign U90 (last 
fall) we launched a concerted effort to collect and archive on 
each Free-Net system any and all documents released by the major 
candidates which dealt with their position on various issues.  
These files were searchable and downloadable by the 
electorate.  The two major gubernatorial candidates in Ohio were 
especially invited to participate in this forum; and, with the 
cooperation of the Ohio League of Women Voters we were able to 
provide at least a capsule sketch of all candidates running for 
office at whatever level in each relevant county.
   But telecomputing is an interactive medium so, in addition to 
these static files, we will be offering all major candidates 
"electronic campaign office space" on at least the Cleveland 
system whereby they will not only be able to post their press 
releases, etc. but will be able to engage in a question and
answer dialogue with the electorate.  If sufficient funds can be
located, we would also like to involve area high school and
college government classes in this process as well.
   This will be the first use anywhere of free open-access        
community computer systems to directly enhance the electoral 
process; and presents a marvelous opportunity to learn more about
their effectiveness in this role.


   As mentioned above, Stage three will involve two major
   In the first we will begin a long-term program to establish 
permanent electronic office space for as many public officials 
and city/county governments as we can.  This will allow cities
and counties to post information about its services and
facilities, provide information services to its citizens such as
City/County Council meeting minutes, and have question and answer
forums available where officials can clear-up the many questions
and problems that people have.  It will also allow elected 
representatives from Washington and Columbus to have electronic 
mail contact with their constituents and be able to post, among 
other things, summaries of their activities.   In this regard, we
already have online several city and/or county governments in the 
tri-state area around Cincinnati, in Medina County, and in 
   The second branch will involve us with a major educational 
campaign whereby curricula will be devised at levels ranging from
secondary schools, to college, to adult education classes, which 
will teach even more people how to use this technology to make 
them better citizens.  This will, however, involve a larger 
funding base than what is available to us at the moment.

   Whether we are going to enter an Information Age is no longer 
at issue.  We are.  The only question which remains is what we,
as a nation and as a society, are going to do about it.

   The Teledemocracy Project is one small attempt at developing 
the technology necessary to bring the citizens of two states into
that Information Age and study the impact of this new technology 
on the governmental process.  There is no way we can imagine a 
governmental structure of the 21st Century which does NOT include
telecomputing as one means of communicating with and informing
the people; and, if that is so, then let that developmental
process begin now.