A spool of fiber-optic cable. New, high-capacity lines are expected to have a broad effect on fields including public safety, education and health care. (June 19, 2011)

"I want the kids to realize the government affects their real lives," Coy said. He recently assigned his students, who come to Digital Harbor from all over the city, to find out who represents them in Congress and prepare a visual report. "The classroom is no longer just a textbook," he said.

That's where libraries — both for the public and at universities — come in.

"So many people don't have access to computers," said Andrea Snyder, job and career librarian at the 21-branch Enoch Pratt Free Library. The new system, she said, would improve connections and allow people writing resumes, researching job openings or students doing research to do more, faster.

"The truth is, no one knows all the possibilities. "The more sophisticated we get, the more advanced we become," said Valerie Gross, Howard County library director.

Medical engineering is another field that would benefit, said Phillip J. Stolka, a post-doctoral fellow and researcher at the Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics. There, engineers and computer scientists are perfecting new ways to use expensive ultrasound machines to diagnose and treat various kinds of cancers from remote locations, controlling the images with applications on iPhones.

A high-capacity broadband network would open new doors, he said, by allowing one physician to view and control ultrasound machines in different locations. At the same time, a classroom of university engineering students could be connected to a machine in a hospital or on another college campus.

"What you get is the difference between talking about all these images and actually seeing them," Stolka said, adding "[T]he bigger the [communications] pipe, the smoother the images."

For the Maryland State Police, expense is another factor, said Michael Roosa, chief information officer. In rural areas of the state, commercial carriers charge for priority access in emergencies. The new system would not only connect state police barracks from Oakland to, but every local sheriff's office and municipal police and fire station in between.

"We're building the infrastructure that will allow us to keep layering on services," Roosa said.

Baltimore County police Sgt. Charles Standiford said broadband could help speed information to officers searching for a suspect or someone wanted on a warrant.

Derek McKinney, President of IPX International, a high-tech firm that has worked mainly in Africa and the Middle East until now, says government technology can affect everybody.

His Rockville-based firm won a contract worth $20 million over two years to operate a logistics center for Maryland's broadband network. That means up to 15 more employees and some home-grown experience for a locally owned, startup minority contractor.

"Our business has been about bridging the digital divide" between those who have and use the new technology and those who don't, often in third-world nations, he said. "Part of the reason for the federal project was to bring broadband access to rural places where companies like Verizon and Comcast won't go because there aren't enough customers to make it profitable.

"It's going to give us all better access."