Texas legislators make jump from cable to Web

Texas legislators make jump from cable to Web

Online broadcasts of sessions gain popularity

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

The Web sites of most state legislatures provide public access to legislative text. Broadcasting sessions over the Internet is the next up-and-comer.



Texas is one of 15 states to broadcast video of proceedings over the Web. It is one of even fewer to post links to archived broadcasts (see The 50 States, Page 6).






Texas Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr. holds the floor in this digital video clip of last May's Senate session, which is archived on the Web at www.senate.state.tx.us.


The Texas Legislative Council's Information Systems Division supplies the computer equipment and technical support for the setup. But that's just the half of it, management information systems analyst Jaime Rodriguez said.

'I think a lot of folks think they can buy the software, PCs and servers'they're not that expensive. But you might have to spend a lot of money on your video equipment, sound equipment and mikes, and we already had that done,' he said.

The Senate Media Group and the House Video/Audio Group already ran the respective houses' broadcasting infrastructures, initially set up to support cable broadcasts. In states such as Washington and Connecticut, public TV stations run the cable broadcast feeds.

Texas' Senate Media staff uses PCs to encode video and audio feeds. A typical server is a dual 400-MHz IBM Netfinity with 256M of RAM, a 9G hard drive, a sound card and a video card. The PCs run a variety of software from RealNetworks Inc. of Seattle under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0.

Direct to the Web

The encoder sends the feed and a file copy to an IBM Netfinity 5500, which runs RealVideo Server from RealNetworks under NT. The live broadcast feeds directly to the Web, and the copy is archived to the hard drive. A webmaster creates Web site links for both the live broadcast and the archived file.

Bloomington, Ind., has a similar setup for civic meeting broadcasts but pulls feeds first through a VCR, which creates analog backup tapes, and then through the encoding PCs [GCN/State & Local, December 1999, Page 6].

Some states don't archive video files. Georgia archives only audio because of limited space, LAN manager Gerald Edwards said.

A legislative information technology pro in another state said some legislators don't allow archiving because they fear the broadcasts will be used against them in election campaigns. The Texas Web page with video archive links includes a warning against using the footage in political advertising. Violators face a civil penalty of up to $5,000 per incident.

The Texas Legislature, which meets biennially in odd years, even takes some of its recording on the road. During the off year, committees hold interim meetings around the state. Senate Media staff members record meetings using a notebook PC microphone, then post audio files on the Web when they return to the Capitol.

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