"When I started, I thought it was going to be the domain of computer enthusiasts and geeks like me that knew how to use the Internet at the time, which was not a simple matter," Ashdown said. "For most of the '90s, it was quite a difficult proposition to get someone on the Internet. Even if they had the modem and computer, there was still software that needed to be configured properly and it was buggy."
Now nearly everyone in Utah is connected.
"That's really the biggest change for me about the Internet, is just how ubiquitous and easy it is to use now. In most places, you can just plug a computer into the wall, and you're on the Internet," Ashdown said. "It is transparent to most people. They don't have to think about things like IP addresses or DNS servers or the gobbledygook that we have to deal with here on a technical basis."
Internet access • A Census Bureau report issued Monday says survey data show that just 7.5 percent of Utahns age 3 or older did not have the Internet available to them in their households in 2011 the lowest in the nation.
The national average was more than twice as high, 15.9 percent.
Close to Utah's low rate for nonconnected residents were New Hampshire, 8.9 percent, and Washington, 9.1 percent. States with the worst percentages included Mississippi, 26.8 percent; New Mexico, 21.7 percent; and South Carolina, 21.6 percent.
Pam Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah, says among reasons Utah may rank so high is that it has the lowest average age in the nation with its many children and large families.
"We know kids tend to be adopters of technology" and are high users of smartphones, which bumps up averages, she said.
Another reason, she said, is that "although we do have poverty here, we don't have the huge populations in poverty that there are other places, meaning people can't afford those kinds of things," such as smartphones, computers and Internet service.
The Census Bureau has also changed how it measures whether people have Internet access at home and/or work, now producing what it calls a "connectivity continuum" to see if people are connected at home, other places and by multiple devices.
'Highly connected' • It found that 27.3 percent of Utahns are what the bureau calls "highly connected individuals," who access the Internet at home and also someplace else and on multiple devices. That essentially matches the national average of 27 percent.
Areas that had the highest percentage of residents considered "highly" connected were Colorado, 35.8 percent; the District of Columbia, 34 percent; and Maryland, 33.5 percent.
Ashdown foresees Utah and the nation becoming even more connected to the Internet and for more purposes.
"Your refrigerator will be connected. Your light switches will be connected, and to some extent you can do that today," Ashdown says, adding Internet will be as needed as any other utility.
"Give us another 10 years, and it's going to be like electricity. When electricity first came out, it was a luxury. And the same thing happened with the Internet. It's a necessity."
He said that increasing use, combined with the current controversy about the government gathering cellphone and online records, may also lead to interesting debates over privacy.
Ashdown said the government is already "collecting a tremendous amount of information off the Internet itself without having to have cooperation of companies because it all gets transferred in the clear. I think that's going to change in the future, too, and that encryption is going to be more and more important."
Utah tops in nation for Internet access
Percent of residents who lack Internet access at home:
1 • Utah, 7.5 percent.
2 • New Hampshire, 8.9 percent.
3 • Washington, 9.1 percent.
National average: 15.9 percent
49 • South Carolina, 21.6 percent.
50 • New Mexico, 21.7 percent.
51 • Mississippi, 26.8 percent.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau's "Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2011."