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

Blake Harris  |  Contributing Editor