Kentucky Gets Connected

In an effort to assess and plan for the state's competitive future, the Connect Kentucky initiative was born.

by / October 31, 2002
The vision of a networked world - one that changes virtually every aspect of how we live, learn, govern, work and play - is alive and well in Kentucky.

"Just as the interstate highway system spurred economic development in the 20th century, the networked world is fundamental to a thriving 21st century economy," said Linda Johnson, president of the Center for Information Technology Enterprise (CITE). "So it is important for Kentucky to understand its backbone, network infrastructure and connectivity, as well as its availability to high-speed affordable network access and who is using the Internet - business, government and citizens."

CITE recently completed a comprehensive three-year study, called Connect Kentucky, designed to assess and plan for the state's competitive future.

"During my administration, we have built on landmark reforms in post-secondary education by developing a strategic approach to ensure that Kentucky prospers in a changing economy" said Kentucky's Governor Paul E. Patton. "In 2000, we established the Office for the New Economy and the Kentucky Innovations Commission, which for the first time formalizes the linkage between our investment in education and our plans for economic development. The resulting strategic plan identifies key focus areas to ensure the state's competitiveness in the knowledge-based economy."

Practically speaking, Connect Kentucky is a public-private partnership involving 15 business partners and nine public partners that formed a statewide steering committee. The committee ensured national benchmarks were established against which the state measured itself, but it then proposed a very concrete action agenda for the future.

"Using a set of guidelines developed by the Computer Systems Policy Project group, we were looking really at three major things," said Johnson. "Our network infrastructure, the condition of our network access and how our network was being used. To use a well-known metaphor, Kentucky is assessing the condition of its Internet highway, the availability of affordable high-speed on-ramps to the Internet."

To complete this assessment, Johnson said that they conducted at least six pieces of significant research. They mapped Kentucky's private Internet network backbone. They also tested dial-up connection speeds in 26 locations across the state to assess how the dial-up network was performing. "Of course I believe that the Internet and the network of the future will not be built on the dial-up network of the past," Johnson added. "So we have also mapped DSL and cable-modem coverage across the state. And we have assessed businesses, consumers and government online."

The comprehensive survey found, for instance, that 69 percent of Kentucky businesses used computer technology to handle some or all of their business functions. Only 36 percent, however, had connections to the Internet, and slightly more than 20 percent had a business Web site. Moreover, of the 64 percent of Kentucky businesses that were not online in any form, more than half indicated that they have no need to use the Internet. This indicates a lack of awareness of e-commerce strategies in the state's business community, said the Connect Kentucky report.

E-Government Progress
Part of the Connect Kentucky assessment took a hard look at e-government progress within the state. While the state's wide area network - the Kentucky Information Highway - connects more than 4,000 government facilities and educational entities, the report identified several concerns requiring official attention.

For example, executive-level leaders hold diverse views and understandings of e-government. All state Cabinets have a Web presence, but the level of collaboration among agencies is relatively low. And resource constraints have reduced capacity to deliver advanced e-government solutions.

The report identified several specific weaknesses, including the lack of reusable components such as online payments, Web-page templates or shared customer profiles. No framework existed to manage Internet content, and skilled employees were scarce and hard to retain. These factors worked to dampen the vision of better government through network access and electronic service delivery - which were seen as essential in the coming years.

"Citizens must see themselves as the owners of their government, and electronic government can be used to convey that ownership to the people," said Ken Oilschlager, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. "This will require citizen-centric design, personalization options, visibility through marketing and access for all."

The biggest gap in e-government exists at the local level, Johnson said. "The steering committee clearly recognized that work was needed here to ensure that all citizens across the state have an opportunity to participate in e-government initiatives, particularly at the local level," she added.

Action Agenda
The next phase of Connect Kentucky involves a recently released strategic initiative - available online- that outlines major goals, lists implementable action strategies for achieving those goals and defines standards for determining success over the next three years. For example, one of the standards will measure the sophistication of Kentucky's manufacturers in exploiting computers, the Internet and Web sites against national averages for firms of comparable size. "We collected benchmark data this year that tells us where Kentucky manufacturers are with respect to the U.S. national averages," said Johnson.

One project goal is to create and implement market-driven strategies that increase business, consumer and government Internet use. Specific projects fulfill this objective, including a portal for physicians to submit transactions and educate health care providers and consumers; promotion of online open enrollment for health care benefits; and collaboration with the state Chamber of Commerce to create an online business directory.

Measures of success include increased Internet use by the health care community; improved high-speed Internet access in large and small communities, and a larger number of Kentucky cities and counties using transactional Internet applications. A review of 120 Kentucky city and county Web sites revealed that 55 percent of them contained only informational content.

Public policy initiatives include the deregulation of all broadband services to create regulatory parity among competing providers, implementation of telecommunications tax equity and modernization to create competitive investment and eliminate disincentives, and state government initiatives "designed to lead by example" to promote business and citizen participation in the networked world.

Finally, the plan calls for a broad public campaign to boost awareness of e-commerce, e-government and e-learning benefits. Action strategies include working with community and faith-based organizations to promote citizen use of the Internet, publicizing security and privacy practices throughout the state to encourage more e-commerce, and creating a "media SWAT team" to raise public awareness of the benefits afforded by the Internet.

Success standards here include an increasing number of local governments with applications online, rising enrollment in Kentucky's Virtual University, and a narrowing of the digital divide between income and Internet participation.

Closing the digital divide is particularly important to the state. "While Kentuckiens continue to embrace the Internet and buy goods and services online, there continues to be a disparity among demographic groups based on age, income and education, as well as geographically, between rural and urban regions," said Oilschlager.

Johnson praises the action agenda developed by the steering in its entirety. "I think the committee has created a very bold strategy agenda that will not only move, but really will propel Kentucky forward over the next several years."

She said the plan will, in a very concrete way, help to create needed broadband access and infrastructure throughout Kentucky. More importantly, it will encourage Kentucky citizens and businesses to fully utilize the Internet to participate in better government and increased prosperity in the region.

Blake Harris Contributing Editor