Capitol District Business Review

May 11, 1998

New network offers opportunities to North Country

Alan Moorse Business Review Reporter

The Sage Colleges hosted a demonstration and press conference May 1 at which educators, politicians and health care providers nearly called the new Adirondack Area Network all things for all people in the North Country.

The network is a combination of video, computer and telephone technology that achieves sophisticated results cheaply, opening the electronic door for those whose remote locations and modest budgets previously shut them out of the information age. It brings affordable teleconferencing, Internet service, even telemedicine to the Adirondack region.

"This network will forever change the way we learn, teach, do business and get information in New York state," said Jeanne Neff, president of The Sage Colleges, which is based in Troy.

During the event--which featured presentations from Albany Medical Center, the Sage campus in Albany, Champlain Valley Educational Services in Plattsburgh and Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES in Malone--Neff said the network will carry courses for health care professionals in the sparsely populated region between Albany and Montreal to the north and Syracuse to the west.

Albany Med serves the entire region, and providing medical services, educational programs and research information throughout it is a challenge, said James Barba, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the medical center. He said the network "is going to make all the difference in the world" to his organization.

Albany Med staff sent a high-resolution X-ray from the hospital to the three other locations, showing how the network could be used in medical consultations. The video and computer system is portable, so it could be wheeled to a patient's room, allowing distant relatives to "visit."

Neff said the network also will be the communications backbone of the University Heights project, a sprawling center of higher education being developed along New Scotland Avenue by Sage, Albany Law School, Albany College of Pharmacy and Albany Medical Center, parent of Albany Medical College.

The Adirondack Area Network uses parts of Bell Atlantic Corp.'s communications network that are lower-tech and lower-cost than high-speed fiber-optic lines. Until recently, the lines and switches, called a frame-relay network, were thought incapable of carrying Internet, telemedicine and video conference signals.

A team led by David Bonner, director of technology initiatives for Sage, designed the network around the use of frame-relay, which keeps connection costs less than $1,000 a month. Other teleconference systems can cost $100 an hour.

A school or health care organization could purchase everything necessary for joining the network for about $70,000, Bonner said.

Development of the network was supported in part by $1.4 million from the Bell Atlantic Foundation, which has set aside $50 million to improve services for New Yorkers, said Lee Brathwaite, vice president and general manager of Bell Atlantic operations in northeastern New York.

"What's happening here this morning is revolutionary," said state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick).

When teleconferencing came into vogue a decade or so ago, it was both very expensive and of poor quality, two hurdles the Adirondack Area Network has solved, he said. "What's exciting is that what's happening here in the Adirondack area can happen throughout the country and, in fact, the world," Bruno added.

As word of the network has spread, Sage has been fielding calls from schools, businesses, government agencies and churches interested in building systems, Neff said.

"Anyone who's interested in communication can use this technology," she said.

During the hour-long demonstration, sound sent over the network came through clearly, and images blurred only when the camera moved quickly. Speakers' rapid gestures appeared on video monitors with none of the stop-action jerkiness common in other teleconference systems.

The network is a collaboration by Sage, Albany Med, Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES, Champlain Valley Educational Services, Bell Atlantic, RADVision, VTEL, NYSERNet and New York state. More than 50 organizations are members.

RADVision created the technology that allows Adirondack Area Network to send video conference signals over the frame-relay network. It also provided a gateway system to allow users to participate in a video conference with users of systems that transmit over what are called ISDN lines.

VTEL, the world's largest developer and manufacturer of digital visual communication systems, provided video conferencing equipment for the network.

NYSERNet, the New York State Education and Research Network, a non-profit consortium, conducted research on transmission of audio and video signals over networks using Internet protocols.

© 1998, Capital District Business Review