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Our Window/Alicia Costanza: A Virtual Ocean

Growing up on Long Island, I learned two things: One, you cannot go anywhere without there being traffic, and two, you must have respect for the ocean.

As a strong and unpredictable power, the ocean has the capacity for great beauty, but also has the ability for mass destruction. It can be awesome, inspiring, and free flowing. The Internet is a lot like the ocean in this sense.

My parents always taught me I should respect the water and have a healthy fear of it, for it is more powerful than any one person. I took these lessons to heart, and I will carry them with me always. But now, living in the nearly land-locked state of Pennsylvania, and having grown up quite a bit, there was a new lesson I needed to learn: Respect the Internet, for it is more powerful than any one person.

The past few years have brought amazing technological advances, especially in the arena of the World Wide Web. We can e-mail someone in another part of the world, and have them receive the message in seconds. We can get almost anything online -- weather, maps, health information, newspaper archives, recipes, music -- you name it and it is yours for the asking in a matter of minutes.

Did you know that you can look at works of art that are in the Metropolitan Museum? Or see the paintings on the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? You can watch a live streaming video of life at the bottom of the ocean, or take a virtual tour of the Egyptian pyramids -- without ever leaving your seat. Take yourself or your kids on an online voyage. We can all share in the virtual experience, if we want to. One town is even trying to ensure that all its citizens can have this experience.

La Grange, Georgia, 60 miles southwest of Atlanta, is working to bring all of its citizens together with the Net. Every house, school, government office, and retail store in town will be connected to one giant high-speed cable network. With the help of its local cable provider, La Grange plans bring everyone online by the fall for a cost of about $300,000.

The town plans to have each household and business hooked up with high-speed connections to the Net, and is providing free cable modems and installation. The services will be provided free for each user for at least one year. Those citizens that do not have a PC will be given devices and keyboards that allow them to have Web TV. Users unfamiliar with the Internet and how it works will receive in-home training -- also provided gratis -- thereby giving every citizen the opportunity to access worldwide information for free. The city is harnessing the Internet's power to help its citizens gain more technological skills and get better jobs, and also to help its students learn to navigate through the sea of online information at home.

Because there is so much information available with just a few clicks, I try to find something new out there every day. One thing we need to remember as we navigate the Web is that the Internet is a lot like the ocean - it has moments of great beauty and power, allowing information to flow to us in waves. And much like the sea, the Internet is so vast we will never know all it has to offer.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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