Soon after I had high-speed broadband Internet service installed at home, I helped my daughter with a school report on the solar system. We quickly found half a dozen spots in cyberspace devoted to explaining the sun and its planets for kids. Clicking instantly among the sites seemed like having several encyclopedias lying around the room open to what we needed.
At work and at home, broadband profoundly changes how you think about computers. A dial-up modem provides a handy way to send e-mail or find information. Broadband, however, transfers that information as much as 100 times faster.
But much of Kentucky can’t get broadband—especially areas outside city limits. No one’s figured out how to make a profit by extending the high-speed cable or special phone connections to the smaller numbers of people in rural areas.
There are other reasons some 75 percent of Kentucky adults don’t have broadband in their homes. Even in cities, its expense makes it hard to justify unless you have a home-based business.
A two-year-old effort called connectkentucky has been promoting the value of broadband. In its latest annual report, the initiative of the state Office for the New Economy calls information technology “an enabler for expanding wealth, improving education, and increasing access to healthcare.”
Expanding broadband in Kentucky raises a chicken-and-egg dilemma: businesses won’t invest until there are lots of customers. Potential customers won’t buy it until there are lots of ways to make their investment worthwhile.
Someone has to get things started.
Government can help. Governor Ernie Fletcher plans to work with the legislature to develop incentives for broadband. Kentucky business and education groups have also been encouraging its use.
Broadband is one of the most important building blocks in the progression of the information society and economy. This new age raises risks and dangers we need to learn to tame. But the benefits of bringing the world into our homes promise revolutionary improvements in productivity and quality of life, from education to healthcare, in ways we can’t yet imagine. It can be especially meaningful in Kentucky, where technology could overcome barriers of distance, while protecting our ability to live in the communities we know and love.