At what point does high-speed Internet access become a public utility expectation? Well, if we're not there yet, it's getting close.
In this highly wired society, having access to the World Wide Web from your home is quickly becoming more of a need than a want. And while we wouldn't put access to this service on par with having electricity or phone service coming to your home, it's hard to deny that being disconnected from emails, news and other information on the Internet puts people at a cultural, if not concrete, disadvantage. We suspect that many of you are reading this editorial on your laptop, tablet or phone.
But here in Carroll, about 10 percent of residents, or about 17,000 people, mostly in the far-reaching places in the county, are without access to high-speed Internet. This limitation not only puts those who live in those areas at a disadvantage, but it also hurts education efforts and has the potential to hurt the county's chances of attracting new businesses that could grow its economy.
So we applaud the steps being taken by the Carroll County commissioners and by the City of Westminster to expand high-speed digital access for residents and businesses. The commissioners told staff from two county agencies earlier this month to find potential members with specific expertise for a committee that could help chart a long-range course. Meanwhile, Westminster started to install its own fiber-optic network late last year. At a cost of $19.3 million over the next few years, its ultimate goal is connecting it with Baltimore's network.
There are plenty of questions that remain on how to move the process forward — no less than how to fund the installation, who owns the fiber and determining how to hook up those who live in areas where access would have to be wireless because fiber would just be too expensive to install. We are likely many years away from the goal of total Internet access for all. But steps need to be taken now.