Among the 43 states that revealed how much they spent for Y2K computer fixes, Georgia's $322 million budget was the largest.
Last weekend, while attending the National Governors' Association winter meeting in Washington, D.C., Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes told Stateline.org Senior Writer Blair S. Walker that Georgia received a lot more than Millennium Bug protection for its money.
Stateline.org: Government Technology Magazine recently ranked your state No. 1 at conducting e-commerce applications. How did Georgia pull that off?
Barnes: When we spent $322 million dollars on Y2K, we took 40 percent of that money and upgraded our hardware. Then, we started coordinating our access to the Internet and coordinating our technology. That pushed us up (to No. 1).
Stateline.org: Why was Georgia's Y2K budget larger than any other state's?
Barnes: Because we were further behind -- I'll just be quite frank with you. We were using 1960s technology, and it was a good opportunity for us to do some upgrades that we were long overdue for.
Stateline.org: In practical terms, what does it mean to be ranked No. 1 when it comes to e-commerce applications?
Barnes: Well, what it means is, state governments have been notoriously slow to use technology. It means that we're recognizing that a state has to be connected, it has to have uniform programs so that you can exchange data. I'm not telling we're there, but we're way down the road.
Stateline.org: You've said that when states move to improve their Internet systems, it's critical to have the state university system involved. Why?
Barnes: Because they train the professionals that are needed to assist you and they provide a pool of trained workers and experts. And then there's economic development -- for those businesses that you're bringing in, universities look at how many professional/technology folks you're turning out of your university system, because businesses need them, too.
Stateline.org: What has your state done in terms of spending money to address the so-called digital divide, the disparity in Internet access between the haves and have-nots?
Barnes: During our Y2K conversion we took all of the old personal computers we had that were workable -- over 3,000 of them -- and we rehabbed them. We made them available for $45 each to every public school in the state. And there are 1,837 public schools, so every school had more than one that could be made available to them. The second thing is, we are going through a program right now to make Internet access and computer technology available at every public library and at every public school. We're even looking at some pilot projects involving laptops for low-income children.
Stateline.org: How much has that cost?
Barnes: It's cost us a pretty penny. We spent $322 million on Y2K, we spent almost $200 million on the public schools. And in this session alone, we're spending $10 million on the pilot program for the laptops.
Stateline.org: If you look at Georgia's economy and it's productivity, what has all this meant?
Barnes: What it's done is made us the third-hottest technology state (behind California and Virginia) in the nation, which is good for economic development. We're also the third-fastest growing state in the nation, so it's kept us on the cutting edge of growth.