Ohio Discovers the Internet

The once integral role the government played in developing the Internet has shrunken dramatically. Mainstream acceptance and commercialization have greatly expanded the roles of the private sector a

Aug 9, 2001 at 2:06 pm

The once integral role the government played in developing the Internet has shrunken dramatically. Mainstream acceptance and commercialization have greatly expanded the roles of the private sector and, in many ways, elbowed federal and state agencies to the sidelines.

By setting public policy, however, politicians can still have some impact on the future of this technological phenomenon. For example, political leaders can create incentives for companies to extend the Web's reach into areas where such investment is otherwise unprofitable, such as the Appalachian counties of southeastern Ohio.

Many governments at all levels have embraced the Internet by using it to communicate with citizens, to enhance education and to automate services. Governmental commerce agencies can encourage companies to increase productivity and efficiency by adopting e-commerce solutions.

They have certainly not dived in headfirst, but Ohio's leaders have dipped their toes into the waters of the Internet. In April the state launched www.ohio.gov, a site that delivers services to individuals and businesses. The General Assembly's Web site, www.legislature.state.oh.us, has long been an excellent source of legislative information. Perhaps most notably, State Treasurer Joseph Deters has successfully employed Internet auctions to obtain higher interest rates on state deposits.

In September 1999, the state government joined with Ohio's technology industry to kick off ECom-Ohio, a three-year analysis of the adequacy and utilization of the state's technical infrastructure. Last month the group issued a second-year report highlighting Ohio's gains and the areas in which it is still lacking.

Among the positive news in the report, broadband access to the Internet is increasing in Ohio. As Web page designers pack more bandwidth-hogging graphics and technologies onto Web sites, dial-up modems are quickly becoming a frustratingly inefficient way to log onto the Internet.

Fortunately, 79 percent of the state's population, an increase of over 25 percent from a year earlier, is now able to log onto the Web through high-speed digital subscriber lines (DSL) or cable connections.

While only seven percent of wired households utilize this ability, Ohio businesses are increasingly signing on with broadband providers. Over 29 percent of Ohio companies with Internet access take advantage of this high-speed access, an impressive 30 percent jump from one year ago.

Perhaps more important than the speed at which they are connecting is the fact that more Ohio companies are connecting. In just one year, the number of businesses in the state that utilize Internet-related technology has increased by 15 percent; and 40 percent of connected companies report increases in productivity brought on by these high-tech tools.

But Ohioans are not yet embracing the Internet as passionately as much of the rest of the country. According to 2000 U.S. Census data, only 50.9 percent of the state's households own computers and only 40.7 percent have an Internet connection, ranking Ohio 30th and 26th, respectively, in these categories.

Although Ohio businesses are beginning to discover the benefits of e-commerce, they, too, lag behind their counterparts in other states. Comparing the ages of Web sites launched by Ohio companies with those of corresponding businesses around the country, ECom-Ohio determined Ohio companies are one year behind the national averages in establishing Web sites.

Further highlighting the need for improvements in Ohio's use of the Internet, the Center for Digital Government and the Progress and Freedom Foundation, research organizations that focus on public policy as it relates to technology, ranked Ohio 30th in the 1999/2000 Digital States Survey. This study analyzed the extent to which states successfully apply technology to the traditional areas of government, including commerce development, social services, law enforcement and education.

According to the survey, the three highest-ranking states — Washington, Kansas and Alaska — have achieved that status mainly by giving technology leaders authority equal to that of other state agencies. Technology is on par with housing, prisons and schools.

Ohio's politicians have shown interest in improving the state's high-tech status, but their dedication falls short of the leading digital states. Consequently, it does not appear Ohio will run with the leaders of the high-tech race in the foreseeable future.