The HMAN cometh to Harford [Editorial]

Just about 20 years ago, almost every home in Harford County was wired for telephone service, and an increasing number of the people living in those homes were using those telephone wires to get access to the latest fad in communication technology: the Internet.

In 1994, having what would come to be ridiculed a few years later as low end dial-up service was at the peak of being tech-savvy.

My how things have changed. The modern, tech-savvy home has nothing so primitive as a telephone wire. Rather, home phone service is an afterthought add-on to combo TV and Internet service, if it's used at all. Real telephone conversations, when they occur, are conducted through our cell phones, which really deserve their more widely used name, Smart Phones, as they are also cameras, video recorders, stereo systems, information storage hubs and any number of other things.

In coming months, Harford County is poised to make active both fiber optic and wireless public Internet access through an $8.9 million project that goes by the name HMAN, short for Harford Metro Area Network. Harford is one of several jurisdictions in Maryland and elsewhere in the United States that are building these community systems, and the Maryland local systems are expected to interface with each other.

A primary role of HMAN is to provide seamless Internet access for public agencies, schools, libraries, police, fire and other important community services.

HMAN's price tag is all the evidence anyone needs to know that the new service won't be totally free. It does, however, have the potential to change the face of the Internet access business by essentially providing, as a public service, what has so far been accessible only through for-profit companies.

It remains to be seen what the cost to the consumer will be, something Harford County hasn't laid out yet.

Aside from cost, a community Internet system is not necessarily all good news. Internet privacy concerns, which have come to the forefront of public attention in recent years, end up being compounded when the service provider is the government. Then again, the Internet started out as, and to some extent has continued to be, an outgrowth of the U.S. Department of Defense communications system.

As HMAN goes online in Harford County, those of us who use it and end up paying for it would do well to focus not only on its convenience, but also on what the rules are regarding privacy and how much government access will be allowed to any private communications or other activities conducted over HMAN.

Cost and control are both essential things we all need to know about HMAN – its potential convenience and state-of-art prospects, notwithstanding.

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