Internet survey finds spotty service, usage

Results of Maryland study will guide plans to boost effective use of computers

April 19, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Maryland families and businesses use computers and the Internet more than the national average, but they're still falling short of what they should be doing, according to a comprehensive survey released by state officials yesterday.

The state's first in-depth analysis of Internet usage and availability also found that although access is improving, it's still spotty -- potentially hurting the opportunities for some companies in Maryland.

"There is great variability, not only across the state, but within communities," said Phillip A. Singerman, executive director of the Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO), a quasi-public state group charged with promoting technology.

State officials said yesterday that they will use the survey results to help Maryland improve access to the Internet and how the Internet is used. They hope to have a plan by fall.

"When you do things like bring small businesses online, you create good opportunities for efficiency," said Andre L. Lynch, chairman of the committee that directed the survey and president and chief executive officer of Ingenium Corp. in Upper Marlboro. "But many of our small businesses don't realize that. No one has shown them how much they can gain."

The "eReadiness Maryland" survey interviewed more than 1,400 residents and 1,100 companies. It cost more than $350,000, which was paid by TEDCO, private companies, and state and federal funds. Maryland officials said Ohio is the only other state to have conducted such an in-depth survey.

The survey found that 64 percent of Maryland homes have personal computers, compared with 57 percent nationwide. Among businesses, 89 percent are connected to the Internet, almost triple the national average of 32 percent.

As expected, computer usage among families was closely related to education levels and income. "Increases in education go along with increases in computer usage," Singerman said.

Studying Maryland's technological infrastructure, officials used 24 laptop computers to repeatedly test telephone lines in different areas over a two-week period.

They found huge variations in how quickly data can be transmitted over Maryland's phone lines. Computers sent information over the Internet twice as quickly in Northeast Baltimore as they did in Canton, and the time it took to connect to the Internet varied greatly within some communities, such as Hyattsville in Prince George's County.

High-speed Internet service -- such as cable and DSL connections -- is available in many areas of the state, but not everywhere. Far Western Maryland and much of the Eastern Shore appear to be the most underserved, but even pockets of Howard County have no such service.

The lack of access frequently interferes with efforts by many Maryland companies to encourage employees to "telecommute," or do their work online at home or remote locations, according to the study.

State officials plan to discuss the report at several regional meetings during the next month and gather ideas for a technology plan.

The regional meetings are scheduled for today at the Technology Opportunities Conference in Garrett County; Tuesday at the Netcentricity Conference at the University of Maryland, College Park; April 26 at a Tri-County Council meeting in LaPlata; May 8 in Snow Hill; and May 13 in Wye Mills.

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