Even at the least restrictive settings, certain search terms resulted in much more blocking -- about 10 percent of health sites found by searches using the terms "safe sex," "condom," and "gay" were blocked.

Also using those terms, the percent of sites blocked at moderately restrictive settings was even higher; and at the most restrictive blocking setting, several of the more controversial search terms had blocking rates above 40 percent. -- University of Michigan

Underwater Cables Destroy Coral Reefs

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Cable lines strung across Florida's southern coast are severely damaging coral reefs, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Fiber-optic cables, used to connect central and Latin American phone and Internet service with state residents, destroy the brittle reef structures as they swing back and forth underwater, according to a PEER study conducted during the summer of 2002. This is the first research to document how fiber-optic cables continue to damage reef structures long after their initial installation. The study, focusing on the state-regulated waters off Broward County, shows that boat anchor snags, wave surges and coastal currents cause the cable lines to repeatedly batter the fragile structures.

Covering less than 1 percent of the planet's surface, coral reefs are the world's most biologically diverse marine ecosystems. Living among Florida's corals are sponges, crabs, turtles, lobsters and nearly 600 fish species. Because many coral reef organisms can tolerate only a narrow range of conditions, reef communities are highly sensitive to environmental or human-caused damages.

PEER said Florida's coral reefs, estimated to have taken between 5,000 and 7,000 years to develop, are rapidly diminishing from a variety of man-made sources, including offshore dredging, increased turbidity and global warming.

"The state's plan to install even more underwater cables lacks a realistic understanding of the damage already done," said PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer, noting that cable lines could be installed above the Oculina Bank, which is the northernmost point of Florida's coral reefs. "These ancient structures may be gone forever before Florida realizes the consequences of today's actions."

Meyer also said the state-owned underwater property is leased to fiber-optic companies at cut-rate prices. Florida is one of only three coastal states that do not collect a fee based on fair market value, according to PEER, and fiber-optic cables can generate a profit of more than $5,000 per minute to operators.

Florida, however, treats fiber-optic cable companies as if they were state-regulated public utilities even though the industry has long been deregulated -- with cable access awarded to the highest bidder. -- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

Getting Connected

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The number of high-speed lines connecting homes and businesses to the Internet increased from 12.8 million to 16.2 million -- 27 percent -- during the first half of 2002, according to the FCC. By comparison, the amount of broadband connections increased 33 percent -- from 9.6 million to 12.8 million lines -- during the last half of 2001.

Of the 16.2 million high-speed lines in service at the end of June 2002, 14 million served residential and small business subscribers -- a 27 percent increase from the 11 million reported six months earlier.

Additionally, the FCC said that in June 2002, 10.4 million lines provided advanced services at speeds exceeding 200 Kbps in both directions -- an increase of 41 percent during the first half of 2002.

At the end of June 2002, broadband services were present in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And 84 percent of the nation's ZIP codes had broadband services, compared to 79 percent six months earlier.

With respect to delivery methods, the FCC found that DSLs in service increased by 29 percent during the first half of 2002 -- from 3.9 million to 5.1 million lines -- compared to a 47 percent increase during the preceding six months, from nearly 2.7 million to 3.9 million lines.

Cable modem service increased by 30 percent during the first six months of 2002 -- from 7.1 million lines to 9.2 million lines. This increase was lower than the 36 percent increase during the second half of 2001.

In the June 2002 raking of ZIP codes by median household income, there was a 98 percent high-speed subscriber presence in the top one-tenth wealthiest ZIP codes, and a 69 percent presence in the least affluent tenth.

The comparable figures one year earlier were 96 percent and 59 percent, respectively.

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor