Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, is taking advantage of a service that blends two communication technologies, the robo-call and the teleconference, to conduct interactive live town-hall meetings over the phone in which thousands of constituents can participate.
In a June 24 call to San Mateo County — the calls are organized by county — a total of 6,030 people were on the line at one time or another during the hour-long event, said Danielle Lee, a spokesperson for Ms. Eshoo.
The meeting began at 7 p.m. Pacific time and constituents stayed on the line for an average of 13 minutes, Ms. Lee said. Peak attendance was 576.
To ask a question, a listener presses a couple of buttons on the phone and tells a call screener the general subject of the question. When the caller's turn comes around, he or she asks Ms. Eshoo the question in real time.
In a recording of a July 9 meeting with Santa Cruz County, available on Ms. Eshoo's Web site, it was a two-way conversation while Ms. Eshoo and the caller exchanged greetings and established the question, but the caller's voice was no longer heard once Ms. Eshoo began her answer. There were no follow-up questions.
The topics ranged from presidential impeachment to universal health care to human rights and the Beijing Olympics. (Ms. Eshoo, who met with the Dalai Lama recently, said she was invited but will not attend the Olympics.)
At the end of the meeting, callers who either did not get on or who had follow-up questions could leave voice mail.
Ms. Eshoo's office is using Los Angeles-based iConstituent to arrange the calls, Ms. Lee said. The company provides mass communication services to state and federal agencies, according to its Web site.
Each electronic meeting costs Ms. Eshoo about $4,000, but it varies according to how many phone numbers are called, Ms. Lee said. For the June 24 meeting, the company called some 45,400 phone numbers in San Mateo County. The maximum is 70,000, she said.
This kind of conference is cheaper than direct mail and more interactive, Ms. Lee said. "It's a very gratifying experience for the people to get answers to their questions," she said when asked for an impression.
Ms. Lee said she knows of two or three other U.S. representatives who are also using the technology.
The meetings are timed so that people are home from work, Ms. Lee said. As for when the next one happens, they're unscheduled and often depend on what's going on in Congress, she said.