ANNAPOLIS – Western Maryland households and businesses are the least likely in the state to have computers and high-speed Internet access, according to a study released this week.
Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties are among six Maryland counties where digital subscriber lines, or DSL, are not provided by local telephone companies, said a study by the state and the Maryland Technology Development Corp.
DSL service is also not provided in Kent, Queen Anne’s and Worcester counties on the Eastern Shore, which as a whole trails other parts of the state in computer use, the study said.
DSL allows subscribers to access the Internet without having to use a dial-up or cable modem, which can take minutes to download even small pages.
“We must begin the process of getting the lines laid, so that it will be more available, especially to the private sector and businesses,” said Garrett County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt. “Getting started is expensive, but we have the cooperation of the major telephone (and cable) companies.”
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who presented “eReadiness Maryland: Assessing our Digital Opportunities” at a news conference Thursday, called it the first step to “improving broadband access throughout the state.”
“This study demonstrates our commitment to continuing to make Maryland a national leader in Internet access for business and homes,” Townsend said.
She said the study gives a detailed map of the broadband infrastructure in Maryland and a better understanding of how businesses and residents get on the Internet.
RESI, an affiliate of Towson University, reached 1,422 households in the telephone survey, and the Survey Research Center at the University of Maryland contacted 1,126 businesses.
They found that 64 percent of Maryland households own computers, above the 57 percent for the nation. But computer ownership fell to 44 percent in the three Western Maryland counties and 56 percent on the Eastern Shore as a whole.
In contrast, the study said 74 percent of homes in central Maryland — Howard, Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties — have computers.
Phillip Singerman, executive director of the Maryland Technology Development Corp., said Internet service providers have been hesitant to serve rural areas of the state because they question whether the demand justifies the expense.
He said they also fear that homeowners who can access the Internet with dial-up modems are not willing to pay for faster access. Many businesses see it as a necessity.
“This study, along with a follow-up up study, will show that there is more demand than people believe,” Singerman said.
The study also showed that computer use rose sharply along with income and education levels. While 87 percent of households with incomes above $50,000 had computers, and 75 percent of them surf the Internet, in households with income under $20,000, only 31 percent had a computer and just 17 percent use the Internet.
The same holds true for education levels. Of household heads with college degrees, 84 percent have home computers and 75 percent use the Internet. For those with high school degrees, the numbers drop to 47 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
Singerman said the study found 89 percent of Maryland companies connected to the Internet through at least one computer, and that businesses are much more likely than private homes to have high-speed access, Singerman said. But 41 percent of businesses are still using dial-up modems. The study said 14 percent of businesses use either DSL or a cable modem.
The remaining 45 percent of businesses had T-1 or other, faster connections, or their access type could not be determined.
Townsend said simply having a computer or a fast Internet connection isn’t enough.
“Small- and medium-sized businesses need training on how to use the computers they have, and how to be more creative and innovative with their technology,” she said.
The state plans to work with the private sector to develop a comprehensive system of high-speed data networks throughout Maryland, Townsend said. She called the information “a major step forward, but it is just the first step.”
“There are challenges to creating universal access statewide, and it will require the engagement of citizens, businesses, nonprofit organizations and local governments to review and analyze this information and apply it to the specific needs of each region,” she said. — Distributed by Capital News Service.