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Broadband access increases in state

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But many still can't get Internet at home

For a growing number of Kentuckians, broadband Internet is given no more thought than any other utility. Like television and electricity, it’s just expected to be there.

In fact, it can now be found in about 40 percent of the common-wealth’s homes. While that is certainly positive, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we need to see that number grow. According to a Federal Communications Commission report this month, most states have moved ahead of us when it comes to providing access to this fast-speed connection.

Although it may still be thought of as a luxury, the truth is that those without it could find themselves without a lot of opportunities in the workplace and the classroom, both of which are becoming more and more dependent on the service.

One of our chief obstacles, of course, is a rural and often rugged terrain. One state estimate shows that less than 8 percent of the state’s population lives on 41 percent of our land. That’s literally a lot of ground to cover.

Fortunately, Kentucky was one of the leading states to receive funding when Congress set aside more than $7 billion two years ago for increasing broadband Internet usage. When you combine public and private investment, we’ve seen several hundred million dollars pour into the state over the last few years alone.

Another positive point in our favor is that state government is at the forefront of using technology to reach out to those it serves. Last year, one national study gave us a B+ in this area, a grade only four other states beat. Our online searchable database of government expenses, meanwhile, has been ranked among the nation’s best for the last two years. Its website is opendoor.ky.gov.

There are many other ways that the Internet is making a difference in how the public and government interact. The Kentucky Department of Homeland Security, for example, has made it easier for citizens to report suspicious activity, either by computer or even an iPhone app.

Northern Kentucky University has partnered with a local fire department to create a database of those trained in CPR. When an emergency call of cardiac arrest is received, those on the list who are closest to the victim are notified at the same time as paramedics. They are even told where the closest public defibrillator can be found.

Our schools, not surprisingly, have long been leaders when it comes to technology. Some are providing laptops or hand-held computers to improve learning, while virtual classrooms are making it possible for students to take classes that otherwise would be unavailable.

This outreach is taking students to places once thought unimaginable. In Louisville, for example, many older students this past spring were able to watch heart surgeries in real time and even ask questions of the doctors and nurses while they were still in the operating room.

As more people go online, law enforcement is there as well.  This patrol of a different kind of highway has snared hundreds of criminals, including sexual predators. Meanwhile, the attorney general’s office has made it much easier to acquire computer evidence for trial. A digital forensic lab it created in 2008 already has scanned more than 3,000 hard drives and other computer devices.

Undoubtedly, there will be more innovations like these in the years ahead, but they cannot meet their full potential until more Kentuckians can access them. My hope is that the 60 percent of our households without broadband Internet will soon be able to take advantage of all that it has to offer.

Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181.