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He Created the Net--Really

Rep. Boucher's home is wired even if the House floor is unplugged.

March 01, 2001

Congressman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is a politician who can truly claim to be a creator of the modern Internet. He wrote the 1992 law that transformed what was then called the NSFnet, overseen by the National Science Foundation, from a government entity that could handle commercial traffic. The congressional subcommittee he chaired then oversaw the transfer of control of the Internet from the NSF, which had allowed only scientific and educational materials on the Net, to the private sector.

Boucher, 54, who is in his ninth term as a congressman, also was a co-founder of the Congressional Internet Caucus, and he has authored several telecommunications and broadcasting bills. He lives in Abingdon (population: 8,000), the town in which he was born.

DESKTOP: At home, I have a Pentium 500-megahertz Dell that I bought about a year and a half ago. The really nice thing is that I have a fiber-optic line that comes into the basement, and from that I have a Category 5 line that proceeds to various places in the house. All of those places are data ports with T1 access.

Q. That is really fast. How did you get that in Abingdon?

About six years ago, I encouraged the local government to put in the fiber optic so high-speed access could be offered for an inexpensive price--residential is $35 a month and business is higher but less than $100.

It's been used successfully by the town as a reason for small, technology-based companies to move to the area. We've even had some individuals move here at least partly because they could get the high-speed access. For some, it was the deciding consideration.

Q. Are your computer costs expensed to the government?

The one in Abingdon I paid for personally. The one in my Washington office is paid for by the government, but we ordered it ourselves. It's a Pentium III Dell, 700 MHz, hooked up to a T1 connection. I have a 21-inch screen with a video card that enables me to receive TV. I can watch what is going on on the House floor while I work--I reduce the picture to a small size and put it in the corner of the screen. It's very convenient.

LAPTOP: I have it in front of me right now. It's a Sony Vaio, one of the very small ones, a little less than 3 pounds. I carry it everywhere. It allows me to instantly be in touch with my office.

Q. Do you take it on the House floor with you?

We have a rule that no electronic devices--laptops, cell phones, PDAs--are allowed. It's a rule I intend to change, maybe not to the extent of cell phones because of the distractions. But I think at least PDAs should be permitted because they allow members to get access to Web sites that are relative to debates that are happening.

Anyway, the rule is not being entirely followed now. You are allowed to have pagers, but they are not supposed to go off. That rule is honored in the breach.

Q. So they go off during debate?


HAND-HELD: I have one, a Sharp Wizard. I just don't use it often. I have stored on it my staff list and their salaries, lots of phone numbers and addresses, some coming events. But frankly, I find that there are some things that are still easier to do on paper, and one of them is my schedule. I carry a large schedule pad around with me that allows me to see all the months upcoming. I can get to them instantly. My sense is that works faster than using a PDA.

My general rule is to use digital technology to the maximum extent that it makes life more convenient. But no more.

BOOKMARKED SITES: Hundreds of them. Abingdon is about 350 miles from Washington, and there is no regular delivery of the Washington Post or New York Times, and certainly not the Los Angeles Times. Now with a few clicks of the mouse, I can read them all on a daily basis.

I have a variety of retail sites marked. Last year at a media dinner, [ founder] Jeff Bezos talked about some pretty encouraging earnings numbers. I told him, "I take full credit for that." I've used Amazon to order lots of books, CDs, DVDs.

Q. What DVDs?

I like Mel Brooks; that's my kind of humor. I got "Young Frankenstein" and "Blazing Saddles."

I use the Travelocity site [] to help plan trips, I look at MSNBC [] and CNN [], and I have a variety of radio sites, especially to listen to National Public Radio [] programs.

Q. Do you do congressional work on the Web?

The Thomas site [named for Thomas Jefferson], run by the Library of Congress, is a research resource that contains all the bills in Congress, from their early drafts to the changes and updates in the text that are made as the bills make their way through a committee and onto the floor. The site [] is open to the public, so everyone can follow the progress of a bill.

CELL PHONE: I carry one with me in D.C. because there are things going on during the day I should be aware of. But I usually don't have it with me in my district; it's kind of nice to be away from it.

One of the problems of the digital era is that we are never out of touch. It's hard to find time to reflect, recollect, think, because you are constantly inundated with information.

Q. You are one of the people responsible for that information deluge.

I think it is far better to have that information than not have it. But there are challenges. It is important to carve out time to reflect on the information the digital revolution has made available.

We are going to have to find the time to concentrate free of the intrusions of information, whether wanted or unwanted.

Q. Can legislation help with that?

No. Every individual has to do that for himself.


--As told to DAVID COLKER

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