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Gore Addresses Democrats Via Videoconference

The former Vice President used technology from Polycom to address delegates at 23 hotels throughout Boston.
Former Vice President Al Gore took the virtual podium Monday morning to address the Democratic National Committee's 4,500 delegates and alternates in preparation for the first day of the party's national convention. The image and words of Gore, dressed in blue blazer and tie and standing against a blue background, were delivered over a Verizon Communications ISDN network at 384 Kbytes into 56 meeting rooms spanning 23 hotels throughout Boston.

Gore spoke for about five minutes about the importance of the convention and the need for the Democratic Party to rally around presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry. "Who better than Al Gore to address the party over broadband technology," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who attended the Massachusetts delegation's breakfast at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel.

Markey, who hopes to run for Kerry's seat in the Senate if Kerry wins the November election, first joined Congress in 1976, the same year Tennessee elected Gore to the House. Markey is also the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

Each delegation typically gathers for a breakfast meeting prior to the convention. During the meeting, convention officials provide delegates with information about activities and messages for the coming day. Although only about half of Massachusetts' 121 delegates and 16 alternates were seated in time for the videoconference, those in attendance received directions to the FleetCenter, where the convention is taking place, and information about what the delegates are permitted to bring with them into the convention hall.

The party is using technology from Polycom Inc. to deliver videoconferences throughout the convention, which ends Thursday. Although companies regularly use Polycom's MGC100 videoconferencing platform to link hundreds, even thousands, of office locations worldwide, the biggest challenge in connecting delegation meeting rooms for the convention was the lack of a consistent infrastructure at the hotels, says James Fairweather, Polycom's Eastern U.S. VP.

Twelve of the hotels required Verizon to install ISDN circuits. Polycom's VSX7000 video conferencing units are connected to each hotel's network to provide the videoconference as well as transmit images back to the Democratic National Convention Committee's headquarters not far from the FleetCenter. Polycom's technology gives convention organizers the ability to hold interactive videoconferencing sessions among the delegations although there are no specific plans to do this.

Technology can be used to deliver a consistent message to all 56 delegations, whether they're from California or Guam. This is important because the Democratic Party wants to deliver a consistent message from all of its delegates, particularly when they are interviewed by the media, says Rick Rendon, co-founder and senior partner with the Rendon Group, an event-management and public-relations firm that helped organize the convention. As a delegate tracker for the 1980 Democratic National Convention, Rendon had to convey messages to the different delegations meeting throughout New York by hopping in taxis. "This allows all delegations to be treated equally," Rendon says.

The Democratic National Committee first became interested in Polycom's technology after learning that ESPN has for the past three years used the company's ViewStation video conferencing systems during its coverage of the NFL draft to facilitate live interviews between the network and the league's 32 teams.

Gore isn't the only Democratic heavyweight who'll be addressing delegates via videoconference. Throughout the week, they'll hear from convention chairman New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, convention chairwoman Alice Huffman, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Mary Beth Cahill, the Kerry-Edwards ticket's campaign manager.

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