Surfin' Annapolis


Annapolis, a city which revels in the past, could soon become the town of the future with the state's plans to create a computer network that would connect residents, businesses, universities and government agencies.

The details are still being ironed out, but state officials are working on a plan that would allow Annapolis residents to sign onto their computers and apply for city permits, converse with their aldermen, retrieve information on state government and keep track of new laws and regulations.

The network is being modeled after a similar project in Blacksburg, Va. It has 14,000 subscribers who pay less than $10 a month to access the service. Gov. Parris Glendening is expected to unveil the program during the next two years and could use it as a model for networks elsewhere in Maryland.

Annapolis' town fathers, however, aren't waiting around for the state to go on line.

The city government is making its own plans to set up a data base on the Internet as soon as this summer. Residents could receive the latest news from City Hall, read biographies of the aldermen, and send questions to city officials through electronic mail. Residents who now must try to get information by calling city officials between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays could gain 24-hour access to City Hall at their fingertips in their own homes.

The possibilities of the new technology are endless, but both the state and city need to take a few fundamental precautions.

Availability of any new data base raises concerns about security and privacy, which need to be addressed. Even more worrisome is that the new technology could widen the gaps that already exist between the rich and the poor, the old and the young.

Any new computer data base should be made available in libraries and other public places where people who cannot afford personal computers can nevertheless have the same opportunities to get information. And the city and state must be committed to explaining the systems in a way that non-experts can understand.

Most residents will welcome any technology that reduces bureaucracy, saves time and achieves results.

A carefully planned computer network can do all that, but only if the human operators are determined to make it happen.

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