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Clarksburg
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Cyberspace- A frontier with riches ... if you can afford it

A car in every garage. A TV in every home. What grand days those were!

And yet we move ahead ... and grow apart.

In parts of North Central West Virginia today, you can get Internet service that's faster than lightning, combined with a long-distance calling package that's affordable and packed with options. Or, you can get a great wireless plan. Or, you can get cable television service that includes local network affiliates, plus lightning-fast Internet service.

In other parts of North Central West Virginia, however, there is no cable TV or cable Internet service, and no special phone lines to deliver fast Internet. And in a good many of those places, who knows if these services ever will be available? There is the satellite option for TV and for the Internet. The latter is very expensive, and not as fast as the DSL phone line service. The former, meanwhile, is all right for cable, but networks aren't provided via satellite (seems we aren't in a big enough market). That's a pretty big hangup for people who want to watch the local weather or local news.

So accessibility to these services -- or lack of it -- is creating one divide between West Virginians.

Perhaps even more ominous is the economic divide that's widening via the Internet.

While some West Virginians are able to afford fast Internet service and all the advantages of cyberspace, others can't even afford to buy a computer. And we're not talking about one of those slick, sleek new models, either. Some state residents have enough trouble putting food on the table, much less be able to spare a couple hundred dollars for a used computer that could provide basic Internet and word processing needs.

On top of this, we're constantly hearing from state development officials how the Internet can be the great equalizer for our state. Their hope of luring cyberspace businesses here is a good one, since our geography shouldn't be the roadblock it traditionally has been.

But to West Virginians who can't routinely surf the Web, or don't have the option of the fast Internet speeds that are so commonplace in so many areas in America now, talk of salvation from an Internet economy must sound pretty hollow.

This is a matter that deserves consideration from each level of government, from the administration and Congress right down to the governor and the state Legislature as well as county commissions and city and town councils.

There's nothing wrong with the American dream of working hard to get ahead. But anyone who studies world history knows wide gaps between social and economic classes can make for pretty unpleasant, not to mention volatile, times.

With important statewide and national elections coming up next year, not much of substance is likely to be accomplished on this matter between now and then. But voters from throughout West Virginia should insist on some viable potential answers to this very real problem from any of those who seek public office.

And those who subsequently are elected should make reducing these inequities among state residents a priority during their terms in office.

Matt Harvey