In the not so distant future, Internet technology companies would have us believe that we'll turn on the oven to bake a roast, video-cam in on the kids doing their homework, adjust the thermostat, pull down the shades and turn up the lights -- all without leaving our cubicle at work.

At home we'll unwind with a video-on-demand connection to newly-released films or Tekken Tag with another gamer a thousand miles away, but we won't give any more thought to any of these activities than we do today when we pop a bagel in the toaster.

Technology in the house has been the stuff of dreams since Disney's House of Tomorrow, but bringing it to life requires an always-on, Internet-driven home with pipelines to the Web that are as ubiquitous as gas, water and electric hookups.

An Internet portal in every room and access to your home from virtually anywhere in the world is the latest take on the home of the future, but consumers may or may not buy this Xtreme Jetsons version of homes to come.

Rather than retrofitting existing homes one-by-one, the key is developing communities of new homes wired for the new Internet utility, according to "Connected Communities," an intiative for homebuilders to incorporate so-called "iHome" technologies into new, master-planned communities.

The brainchild of Silicon Valley's networking giant Cisco Systems, Connected Communities is targeting developments in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey and California.

"We want to provide homebuilders with the necessary resources and support needed to fully integrate the Internet Lifestyle into their homes and communities," said Kristine Stewart, a Cisco spokeswoman.

Given the static nature of new home architecture and design, building in technology will at least give builders something new to offer buyers -- especially more affluent buyers.

The new-found affluence of the past decade has generated a yen for everything technologically new, says Dean Wehrli, a director with the Meyers Group, a new home research and marketing firm.

"Homebuilders see it as a kind of arms race, so they are beginning to include it or have the wiring and pads in place for future possibilities in their move-up and high-end new homes. They figure if they don't have it, their competitors will," Wehrli said.

Other builders say Cisco's technology offers them the opportunity to bridge the digital divide and build wired homes anywhere, not just in master planned communities.

"While inner city residents have the desire to pursue the Internet Lifestyle, they can't afford the luxury homes that traditionally offer these technologies," said Gregg Stewart, financial advisor of Houston-based Morgan Kendal Homes, Inc.

"Our relationship with Cisco will allow us to provide inner city home buyers with quality houses designed to promote home networking solutions and bridge the technology gap," Stewart added.

Not all agree wired homes are an automatic easy sell. Getting the fridge to call the repairman requires a behavioral change that even technology may not overcome. Thousands of VCRs perpetually flash "12:00" because many consumers have been unable to get beyond the "play" and "record" button on machines that, thanks to DVD, are nearing obsolescence.

"The home automation thing has really bombed," said Alan Fields, who, with his wife Denise, co-authored Your New House (Windsor Peak Press, $14.95). "Fully automated homes seem to be owned only by the wealthiest homeowners, or by home automation system executives themselves."

"It's realistic to believe that the always-on DSL and broadband connection pads, using structured wiring for all our modem needs will continue to be a desirable option. But the stories that have been advanced for so many years about us cooking dinner and dimming the lights on our house from work, while watching the kids in the pool by closed-circuit camera doesn't seem to be real world," he says.

Perennially impressed by sophisticated technologies, consumers seem to give serious credence to the high-tech industry's prediction that the Internet will be as vital to them as the telephone and automobile. But whether or not they buy into the idea of 'home-of-the-future' automated technology in great numbers remains to be seen.

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