State Majority Leader
North Country Board of Cooperative Educational Services officials appear on a television screen Friday during a news conference at The Sage Colleges to unveil the Adirondack Area Network. The project improves video conferencing and cuts costs.

Telecommunications improve

Albany New Upstate network makes conferencing less expensive
By Sylvia Wood
Staff Writer
Video conferencing just got a lot faster and smoother. For the first time, interactive communication across hundreds of miles is as easy as watching television.

Business, political and education leaders got a glimpse of this new advanced telecommunications network Friday at Sage Colleges during a news conference that linked Albany to Malone and Plattsburgh.

"What's happening here this morning is truly revolutionary," said Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno. "I can only say that eight or 10 years ago when video conferencing was coming into didn't work that well."

The new Adirondack Area Network, as it is called, is expected to change that perspective, according to creators of the project at Sage Colleges.

The $1.36 million project was developed over the past four years with funding from Bell Atlantic Foundation and the New York State Advanced Telecommunications Project Diffusion Fund Committee.
"This network will forever change the way we learn, teach, do business and get information in New York state," said Jeanne H. Neff, president of the Sage Colleges. "It's really a breakthrough application."

Video conferencing isn't a new idea. Many communities across the country have already bought into distance learning and telemedicine projects that link professors and doctors to classrooms and patients hundreds of miles apart.

But that technology has been limited by the cost of putting in new, fixed phone lines to carry sound, images and data, experts say.

The Adirondack Area Network's different and a lot cheaper. It uses a virtual network that doesn't require a large investment in hardware. Sponsors say it has the potential to open new doors for small businesses and rural communities.

There's nowhere else in the world that's doing this," said Tim Newton, of VTEL Corp. in Braintree, Mass., a company that specializes
in video conferencing. "No one is doing it as seamlessly as they are."

The cost of using this technology ranges from $750 to $900 a month, compared to the conventional system, which costs users up to $100 an hour.

To date, Adirondack Area Network includes more than 45 institutions, including hospitals, schools, and legal aid services, in upstate New York.

Already, supporters say the network, which began operating last October, is bringing communities closer by allowing North Country students to take virtual field trips and by linking rural doctors to specialists at Albany Medical Center Hospital.