When Claiborne Pell began his career as a U.S. senator 36 years ago, modems had not yet been invented, room-sized computers with vacuum tubes were still being used, and the forerunner to the Internet was nine years away.
Today, in a new era of technology, Pell has embraced the latest trend in communications: a home page on the World Wide Web.
Though Rhode Island's senior senator will retire in January, Pell said he is ``determined to keep up the pace for Rhode Island.''
Constituents have been able to send e-mail to the senator's office since last year. And now with the Web site, Net surfers can read up on what the senator has been doing. The address is http://www.senate.gov/~pell/.
The most obvious feature of the senator's site is Pell's name, spelled out in huge blue letters.
Pell's Web site offers the standard fare found on most of his colleagues' sites, such as biographical information, how to request a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol and how to apply to armed-service academies and for internships in Pell's office. A section with Pell's recent speeches and statements is planned but not up and running.
Pell's site allows users looking for legislation he has proposed to search the Library of Congress's computer database. Unfortunately, that service is somewhat difficult to use.
Pell is not the only Rhode Island member of Congress to have a Web site. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (http://www.house.gov/patrickkennedy) was the first to open a Web site. (An earlier Cybertalk column discussed his efforts.) Rep. Jack Reed's site (http://www.house.gov/reed/) went on-line this summer.
Reed's campaign site
Like Pell's site, Reed's offers the typical information found on other legislators' sites, including links to Rhode Island and federal government information.
Reed actually has a second Web site (http://www.reed96.org) that promotes his campaign for U.S. Senate. That site offers Reed's views on issues from education to Social Security, his speeches, selected press reports and a calender of political events.
Sen. John Chafee uses a home page (http://www.senate.gov/senator/chafee.html) that the Senate posts for members who choose not to put up their own sites. Chafee's spokeswoman, Josie Martin, said he probably will have his own site this year.
If you are checking up on members of Congress, including Rhode Island's delegation, visit a Web site by Project Vote-Smart, which bills itself as a non-partisan ``one-stop shopping center for political information.''
The group has a Web page for each state's legislators (Rhode Island's is http://www.vote-smart.org/congress/ri/ ) and provides information about candidates that's difficult to find elsewhere.
There are lists of campaign financing sources, broken down by industry and sector; sample voting records that list votes by topic, such as taxes or defense spending; and a tally of how special-interest groups rate the legislators' voting records.
Challenge from cyberspace
Incumbents aren't the only politicians in cyberspace. One example is Michael J. Rollins of North Providence, a candidate for Kennedy's congressional seat.
Rollins, a frequent participant in several local Internet discussion groups, announced his candidacy via the Internet. He has used the Internet to solicit volunteers and to spread his campaign platform -- although running as an independent, he says he belongs to the Libertarian party.
And late last month, Rollins issued an electronic challenge to the other First District candidates-- including Kennedy -- to participate in a series of on-line ``debates.''
Rollins's proposal is an open-ended invitation to the candidates to discuss issues via messages posted to six local Internet newsgroups. These newsgroups, or bulletin boards, are collections of public messages and are accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
``Are any of you brave enough to join me, here in what I view as being my native territory?'' wrote Rollins in the challenge, which he posted in the newsgroup called alt.rhode_island. He said he would mail hard copies to the candidates to make sure they see it.
Meanwhile, Kennedy has become the first Rhode Island member of Congress to join the recently formed Congressional Internet Caucus. The bipartisan group's primary mission is to promote the growth and advancement of the Internet and to educate Congress about cyberspace. Other local members include Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry and Rep. Barney Frank, all Massachusetts Democrats.
The caucus, founded by Rep. Rick White, R-Wash., can be found at http://www.house.gov/white/internet_caucus/netcauc.html.
Thursday -- An executive from Apple Computers will speak at the Rhode Island Macintosh Users Group at 7:30 p.m. at the Providence Marriott on Orms Street. Jim Gable, vice president of the AppleSoft Division, will explain Apple's plans and discuss current hardware and software capabilities.
The meeting is free. For more information, see RIMUG's Web site at http://www.saturn.net/rimug/ or contact Juan Mariscal at 253-7702, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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