Videoconferencing Insight

Issue No. 97/09 The Adirondack Area Network provides community services 15 September 1997


A shining example of a videoconferencing network serving the rural community has been developed in the northern part of New York State.

It is called the Adirondack Area Network. But this is a bit of a misnomer. The mountainous Adirondack area runs up to the Canadian border. It covers eight million acres, much of it is a nature reserve, it is sparsely populated and the rural corn- munities are not wealthy and often deprived.

To the south lies Albany, the capital of New York State and the centre for education. The main hub of the network, a multipoint conference unit, is located there. Within the Albany capital area there are 4 million people, about two dozen colleges, 28 school districts with K-12 schools (high schools) and two BOCES (Board of cooperative Extension Services). There are also a similar number of health care centres and about a dozen hospitals. Legal Aid Centres offer free legal advice over the Network.

The Adirondack Area Network has been set up to serve these institutions and through them the people that live in the area. As of 1 September 1997, 50 institutions were on line. But another 50 institutions in New York State want to join as well as 28 Health Care Centres in Vermont. Very soon it may have 150 partners on board.

How the project started

The project was started three years ago by David Bonner PhD., who is Head of IS at the Troy Colleges in Albany. He has been assisted by many others, including Dan Maloney,Director of Network Services at the Albany Medical College.

The project aims to link the local area networks (LANs) of these institutions together and to provide the local community with continuing medical, education, distance learning, video conferencing, telemedicine and remote legal advice.

All of these applications are carried on a public frame relay network (or cloud) provided by the local carrier, Bell Atlantic-Nynex. More than two years were spent in designing the network and physical implementation got underway in January 1997.

The project was supported from the outset by Senator Ron Stafford. It was he and his assistant, Peter Repus, who brought the institutions together and told them firmly "you need to work together and you will need to share resources."

Governor George A. Pataki and Senator Joe Bruno have also helped in winning support for the project. All have continuously watched the project and ensured it obtained adequate funding at the State and Federal Government level.

Th Adirondack Area

The Public Utility Law Project (PULP) gave backing to the project early on. PULP is a watchdog law group that makes sure that all sectors of society have telecommunications available to them. PULP is a state-wide law body today, but they expect to become a nationwide body soon.

PULP's, Bob Piller, was a great help in starting the Adirondack Network project. David Bonner started with a seed grant from the New York State Advanced Telecommunications Project. This funding programme which aims to alleviate problems when the infrastucture is not there. It focuses on economically disadvanteged and remote rural areas.

The seed money brought with it some conditions. The criteria were that the idea must be new and innovative, integrate several services into one network, and provide connectivity to a large number of partners. And finally the services provided had to be affordable and amenable.

Dr. David Bonner started with the limited ambition of connecting four institutions. He did not expect it to be such a wide network encompassing such a diverse group of partners. Nor did Dr. Bonner expect the network to have so many uses.

"Once we had consulted with everyone concerned, we found we had to provide Internet connectivity links to the library, video capabilities over large distances. For example, we had to link the LAN of one hospital to the LAN of its associate hospital, 38 miles away, "Dr. Bonner explained.

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