When Mark Rutledge joined Kentucky government in 1999, he knew that technology could help change Kentucky's image beyond manufacturing and agriculture, which had supported it for decades. "We all know that manufacturing is going offshore and that the returns on Kentucky's agricultural markets are shrinking" said Rutledge, who recently joined McAfee, security solutions provider.

When Rutledge became CIO in 2006, he wanted to continue fostering the technology-centered culture that had begun in the state a few years before he took the post. Critical to that new culture was an e-government initiative for citizens to interact with government online. The Commonwealth Office of Technology (COT) aimed for its technology agenda to grow the tech industry's interest in the state.

In the past, Kentuckians had to visit agency offices, mainly residing in three of the state's major cities -- Frankfort, Louisville and Lexington. The COT persuaded various agencies to partner on a state Web portal in 2003 for which Rutledge contributed as a technical adviser. In 2007, Rutledge led efforts to further grow agency participation in the portal. Kentuckians now use the site to renew licenses, obtain legal services, apply for state jobs and find state employees, among other things.

The COT contracted portal maintenance to NIC, which agreed to share some of its revenue when the site became profitable. Rutledge used that revenue to partner with a government-created nonprofit called ConnectKentucky, which helps local governments build their own Web portals, and collaborate with school districts, libraries, county clerks, courthouses and other local agencies to create a unified community online presence. Roughly 100 of the state's 120 counties participate in the program.

Before using the portals, however, Kentuckians needed reasonably fast Internet connections. Most rural areas had no broadband access, and providers refused to build an infrastructure. The Kentucky Public Service Commission regulated telecommunications within the state and allowed small providers to charge less for services than large providers. This discouraged large providers from building the infrastructure all providers needed to deliver services. In an effort to promote infrastructure investment and enable Kentucky to compete in the digital economy, Gov. Ernie Fletcher proposed legislation to make the FCC the broadband authority in 2005, enabling large providers to build infrastructures and compete for market a share, said Rutledge. ConnectKentucky led this project and helped generate more than $700 million in broadband infrastructure investments across the commonwealth, Rutledge said.

"Kentucky is the fastest-adopting broadband state in the country," Rutledge said. "We have broadband available in more than 98 percent of our entire foot map. For that other 2 percent, we're partnering right now to get people in the wireless communities to cover that so we can say we have 100 percent. We have become the model for all other states trying to resolve the digital divide as it relates to infrastructure."

Andy Opsahl  |  Staff Writer