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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government

 

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Fiber Optic Spine of Maine
from the E-Maine website

Noel Paul Stookey introduced Kim Lipp, who said that in the past decade, Maine has become a leader in Information Technology, as well as in the use of Information Technology in Distance Education. She added that leadership is continuing through a major effort to upgrade Maine's telecommunications infrastructure.

Peter Reilly, state director of public affairs for NYNEX, explained to Kim what happens when someone with a computer connects through a modem. He said the network handles the "data call" the same way it would handle a voice call. It goes through the transmission facility and a feeder network to the central office switching location, which identifies the address to which that call is directed. Reilly explained that the communication is carried over what is currently a hybrid of copper and fiber-optic, the latter representing a new technology, which is being deployed throughout the NYNEX network in Maine. He said the onset of the use of fiber-optic cabling over copper wire cabling is an evolutionary process, and the technological difference between the two, in terms of capacity and carrying speed, is startling. He showed a 900-pair copper cable, about four inches in diameter and very heavy, and then held alongside it a 72-strand fiber-optic cable, which appeared to be about an inch in diameter. Peter said that whereas the larger copper cable could carry 900 simultaneous phone conversations, the much thinner fiber-optic cable was capable of 900,000 simultaneous calls.

Reilly continued that the fiber-optic technology has great benefits for Maine, in that the state is obtaining an infrastructure for telecommunications that is second to none in the United States. The system is completely digitally-switched, which is state-of-the-art technology, and that it translates to economic development and social benefits for persons across the entire state, regardless of their location. He said one of the most obvious current benefits is the opening of the world of Internet connectivity to Maine's school students.

Kim then talked to Linda Lord, Distance Education Coordinator for Maine's Department of Education, and asked her about what the technology is providing to Maine's schools and libraries. She replied that during the past year, as a result of a Public Utilities Commission order, every single public school building in Maine, every approved private school in the state, and every public library which agreed, is able to have Internet access and e-mail capability. She said that, as far as she knows, Maine is the only state on the verge of having all of these facilities linked to the Internet.

Kim asked Linda to explain the ATM project. She said the Maine School and Library Network is a data network that links facilities to the Internet, and uses the larger copper wire cables demonstrated by Peter Reilly earlier in the segment. She said that ATM means Asynchronous Transfer Mode. This network uses the fiber-optic cable which Reilly also showed, and it has a much higher capacity for data, and sends it much more quickly. The ATM network is now being pilot tested in six locations, and will provide two-way, interactive video connections to sites, as well as the traditional data connection, as with the Internet. She said the six pilot sites are: Presque Isle High School; Hall-Dale High School; Gorham High School; The Governor Baxter School for the Deaf; The College of Education in Shilbes Hall at the University of Maine's Orono campus; and the Department of Education Building in Augusta. She added that the Maine State Library will shortly be on-line as the seventh test site very shortly.

Kim asked Linda about the first step for someone who has never before used a computer, or has never connected to the Internet or the World-Wide Web, to be able to use the Maine School and Library Network. Linda Lord responded that, as part of the initiation of the School and Library Network, two persons from each site were to go to a two day training session to learn how to do searches on the Internet, and how to send and receive e-mail. Since the network had approximately 1,200 sites around the state of Maine which were eligible, the training program involved over 2,000 persons, all accomplished within a year's period. There was also an additional one day training period for one person from each eligible site to learn how to load the software which made the Internet access and e-mail capability possible. She said that most of Maine's librarians and educators involved in the program are on a steep learning curve and are accepting the challenge enthusiastically. As a result, many of Maine's public schools are offering Adult Education programs which teach them about computer use, while others are having Open Houses and special workshops for parents and citizens of their communities, and public library staffs are setting up special hours for visitors to learn how to surf the Internet, and to have someone available to help. She said that every institution is handling it in a different way, depending upon the specific needs and requirements of their communities.

Kim concluded by saying that if the viewer is interested in taking advantage of things that are happening with Information Technology in Maine, a great place to start is at the local school or library.

Information about organizations, initiatives and resources shaping Maine's information and telecommunications future, as well as links to other related sites, are available at The Maine Guide Web site. Those using a computer at their local school or library to "surf the Web" for the first time, should visit the Beginner's Guide To The Internet on the PBS Understanding The Internet Web site.

Permission granted for publishing by MPBS. The E-Maine web site is available via http://www.mpbc.org/emaine/index.html.