New Paltz — The Information Highway is 10 lanes wide and blazing fast in some parts of the mid-Hudson and a rutted cow path in others.

It's more than videos on YouTube or personal pages on MySpace or multiplayer Internet games like RuneScape.

It can make a difference in how well school kids learn, where they find jobs in the future, how they stay healthy.

There's more. Fast Internet access, or broadband, could add $500 billion to the U.S. economy every year for the next 10 years and produce $1.2 million jobs, according to a June report for Cisco Systems.

But that same study said that the U.S. could lose as much as $1 trillion over the next decade to broadband "lag."

The U.S. ranked 15th among industrialized nations when measured by the percentage of residents with broadband, according to an international study.

Solid numbers are hard to come by in the mid-Hudson.

The big players, Time Warner and Verizon, don't hand out statistics for private business reasons.

But Andrew Halpern of American WiFi in Tivoli estimated that about 50 percent of homes in the region have some form of Internet access.

Of that number, about 60 percent have broadband access, he said.

Jamal Clark of New Paltz has broadband at home, but yesterday he hung out with friends at Elting Library. The group was plugged into a bank of 10 computers with high-speed Internet, all in use.

The teens played RuneScape, while an older woman took a time test and a SUNY New Paltz student did research.

A lot of the kids who come in don't have broadband at home, said Jesse Chance, the library's volunteer coordinator.

Some of them can't afford the cost, he said. That bill often runs $40-$60 a month.

In other cases, the companies can't make money running broadband service into thinly populated areas so residents are left with no Internet service or slow, dial-up service.

Roscoe is one of those areas.

"A lot of people have dial-up, so we had to keep the district Web site pretty simple, said Marc Sturdevant, the district's computer coordinator.

Teachers feel the difference too. "Some kids are very good with researching and search engines; some are completely in awe and don't care," said 20-year teacher Mike Cerullo.

Cerullo teaches technology in Roscoe.

They will need those computer skills in the future, said Benjamin Kudria, the 19-year-old co-founder of Game Face Web Design in Kingston.

"Broadband access is a very important thing if you are talking about the spread of technology and the Internet," Kudria said. "It's like good roads or telephone services."