For most of us, nearly a generation has passed since the internet began making inroads into our lives.
Like the spread of most utilities, it took time before it began feeling commonplace. In 1995, for example, just 14 percent of adults nationally were online, but since then, the trend has largely flipped. Now, only about a fifth say they don’t send an email, click on a webpage or post something on social media.
While that may always be the case for some, the truth is that the internet has joined water, sewer, electricity and good roads on the list of basic necessities a community needs to thrive, especially when it comes to education and the economy.
Because of that, there has been a renewed effort in recent years to spread the fast-speed services that people need to fully use all the internet has to offer. Congress gave this broadband initiative a major boost in 2009 by budgeting about $7 billion.
Kentucky received a larger share than most, but that was in part because there is a considerable amount of need. The U.S. Dept. of Commerce estimates that more than 40 percent of our households do not have broadband access.
This digital divide is making it tougher for many of our communities to grow. A 2011 survey commissioned by the Commonwealth Office of Broadband Outreach and Development found that two-thirds of Kentuckians said that not having fast-speed internet would have a negative impact on their lives, and more than a fourth said they would likely move if it were unavailable. Our community, of course, has been very forward-thinking in this regard.
As we work to improve these numbers statewide, there is one area online where Kentucky is doing quite well: government transparency.
Earlier this year, Kentucky’s state government website tied with Texas’s for the highest score when measuring the amount of information that can be obtained on the internet. Through Kentucky.gov, citizens can learn more about services available to them or how various agencies do their day-to-day job, and companies can get the information they need from the state through the “one-stop shopping” online portal that the General Assembly authorized last year.
Incidentally, the legislature’s website can also be found there, though if you would like to visit it directly, go to www.lrc.ky.gov. It offers such things as the full text of bills during legislative sessions and information on committee meetings throughout the year.
Just as state government puts a considerable amount of public information on the internet, many local governments are doing the same. A legislative study last year found that our 14 largest cities have a presence online, and the figure for those communities with at least 8,000 citizens is more than 90 percent. Meanwhile, about 70 percent of our counties have information online, including all but two that have at least 50,000 people.
In a related area, the state’s auditor is working on compiling a comprehensive list of special districts, which cover such quasi-government agencies as utilities, libraries, fire departments and airport boards. No one knows just how many there are, but there are estimated to be between 1,300 and 1,800. Combined they collect as much as $1.5 billion in taxes and fees each year, which underscores the need to get a clearer picture of all that they do. We’ll know more when the auditor’s office publishes its findings later this year.
For those of us who remember life before the internet, it can still be a little bit amazing to think about how much information is now available at our fingertips. As far as we have come since the early 1990s, one can only imagine what the next decade or two will bring.