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Wednesday | 19 November, 2008 | 4:12 am

The gift that keeps on giving

By Liz Sommerville

November 2008- Today's society is all about staying connected and being able to access the latest information with a click of a mouse. Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to do so, as high-speed Internet isn't universally available. But a few companies are doing their part to change that by stressing the importance of broadband access, especially for businesses like service centers and OEMs.

"It's a global economy," says Rene True, executive director of ConnectKentucky LLC, Frankfort, Ky. "U.S. manufacturers have to compete in many ways with low-cost labor in foreign countries, and one way to do that is to utilize technology to cut costs, improve productivity, raise quality and increase the speed to market. Having access to high-speed Internet is a way to accomplish all those things according to the needs of that particular business."

ConnectKentucky is a wholly owned subsidiary of Connected Nation Inc., Washington, D.C., a nonprofit focused on improving digital inclusion throughout the country. The organization recently partnered with the Entertainment Consumers Association, Wilton, Conn., a gaming advocacy group, to promote universal access to high-speed networks.

Benefiting the bottom line
One area in which high-speed Internet is important is just-in-time manufacturing. "The ability to communicate with suppliers and customers to ensure a steady stream of product or raw materials to the OEM and other end users is paramount in this day and age," says True. "The ability to communicate quickly, securely and over a wide broadband-width, high-capacity Internet connection allows companies to trim their inventories and squeeze out the cost in the logistics system."

As True explains, having high-speed Internet within a manufacturing plant allows for better decision making. With access to real-time data from anywhere in a company's corporate structure, everyone can know what's happening on the shop floor. This is especially helpful for remote plants that need to communicate with the headquarters.

"Without high-speed Internet access, the ability to keep up with far-flung manufacturing facilities is basically impossible," says True. "That competitive necessity is important, not only for manufacturers but also for local communities, from an economic-development standpoint, if they want to continue to have those kinds of facilities located within their community."

True says there's still a strong demand in rural areas of the country for broadband access, and research has shown that if people are given the ability to access it, they'll subscribe to it. And as broadband becomes ubiquitous, more consumers will purchase more electronic equipment that connects to the Internet, which in turn will benefit manufacturers supplying the consumer electronics market.

In the end, the main argument for universal broadband for service centers, OEMs and other related businesses is the bottom line. "Broadband allows you to use the latest technology and employ techniques to reduce your costs," says True. "It allows you to put techniques in place to get more productivity out of your workforce, and it allows you to communicate effectively and efficiently with suppliers and customers. Without a high-speed Internet connection, your company isn't going to survive." MM

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