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A Fine Mess

The Internet�s a mess. It�s like life that way�sloppy, unpredictable, scary, important, fun, definitely interesting, and not to be missed.

Lots of people in Kentucky are missing out, though. Kentucky ranks 43rd of the 50 states in Internet use. That�s a bigger crisis than most of us can imagine, because the Internet is radically changing the way we live.

Kentucky lags behind because of a lack of access to a super-high-speed service called broadband. Instead of crawling through your regular telephone line, broadband delivers the Internet to your computer as much as 100 times faster than dial-up modems. Broadband is the norm for huge numbers of people and businesses around the world.

But you can�t get broadband in small communities where there aren�t enough people to make service profitable for businesses that provide Internet access. Kentucky has a lot of those small communities.

It sounds like the dilemma of electric service 70 years ago, when people in the country had to do without because no one saw profit in extending lines to farmers. Then, a strong federal loan program helped farmers form co-ops that created a rural utility industry that is still an indispensable part of our nation�s economy and quality of life.

That rural electric model, however, doesn�t fit neatly over the hurly-burly of today�s young broadband industry. For one thing, there doesn�t seem to be much interest these days in new government programs.

For another, several different technologies can deliver broadband, from satellites to going through power lines (Kentucky Living, �Internet outlet,� April 2004).

One of those technologies may emerge as the best, or it might make sense to use a patchwork of techniques. Kind of like the Wild West, broadband service is a great area to stake your claim and make your fortune, or lose everything.

President Bush and Gov. Fletcher have proposed similar initiatives to bring broadband to rural areas. Those plans essentially encourage businesses and governments to work together to spread the use of broadband. The drawback is that those plans don�t offer a well-funded, step-by-step solution. On the other hand, betting on any one approach could turn out to be a costly losing gamble. After all, it�s a mess out there.

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