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For the week of Apr. 5 through Apr. 11, 2000

Blistering digits

U.S. West offers high-speed ATM data connections

The new service will provide access to information technology on par with big-city competitors

Express Staff Writer

Members of the Blaine County government and business community with a stake in high-tech communications will meet in Hailey this month to brainstorm ideas for some remarkable new equipment U.S. West plans to install.

In the coming months, the phone company will provide the Wood River Valley with a new digital voice switch, along with a state-of-the-art communications service capable of moving mass quantities of electronic information so fast and efficiently that Blaine County businesses, it seems, will take a couple of years to catch up technologically before they can take full advantage of the service.

The new service will provide access to information technology on par with big-city competitors. Some believe that will encourage more high-tech companies to move into the area and spark major innovations in existing businesses and organizations.

Called asynchronous transfer mode cell relay service (ATM service), the new technology is one of the benefits that comes with the replacement of decades-old analog telephone equipment designed long before the Internet existed.

With that analog equipment, local businesses wanting an Internet connection frequently pay for some or all of a so-called T1 connection, which provides a maximum connection speed of 1.5 megabytes per second—about 50 times the speed most home computer users get with a modem. A single ATM circuit will offer businesses the equivalent of 24 T1 connections.

On its Web site, U.S. West posts a long list of applications for its blisteringly fast ATM service, including Web-based marketing, telecommuting, distance learning, medical consultation, video conferencing and more—almost anything that benefits from high-speed, low-delay networking capabilities.

In a memo addressed to the "Technology Community," Idaho Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, invited members from local libraries, city councils, the school district, the College of Southern Idaho, Sun Valley Co., the Idaho Mountain Express, law enforcement, development companies and several Internet-dependent companies to attend her April 17 brainstorming session.

So far, the attitude of most toward the ATM service seems to be "If you build it, they will come." Others are simply scratching their heads about what they fear will be high-priced technological overkill.

As the information systems manager for Hailey-based Power Engineers, T. R. Bowlin oversees the company’s extensive computer network. During a telephone conversation on Monday, Bowlin said the new ATM service is a step in the right direction for Hailey because it will attract low-impact, highly profitable businesses to the area.

"This is a way for the Wood River Valley to recruit the Marketrons (a Hailey software producer), recruit the high-tech industries," Bowlin said. "The Wood River Valley is going to grow. Let’s promote the clean, high-tech industries, not dirty manufacturing industries."

While Power Engineers is one of the most technologically advanced companies in the area, Bowlin admitted that he didn’t know specifically what he would use the ATM service for.

"It’s not important to me today," he said. "But it will be important in 18 months to two years," he predicted.

For one, bandwidth requirements for companies like Power Engineers increase constantly due, mostly, to ever-more-complex and bulky software upgrades. To illustrate his point, Bowlin pointed out a 10-megabyte hard drive that he thought he’d never fill up back in the 1980s, but "now you could fill it up with one file."

As uses, such as videoconferencing, get more and more sophisticated, Bowlin said, he needs ever more bandwidth.

Across town at Marketron, a company that creates broadcasting software for radio and television stations, network systems administrator Richard Smith said he expects broadcasters to begin transferring actual broadcasting content over the Internet soon. In fact, he said, some radio stations are already doing it. High-performance ATM service will only encourage it to happen more, he said.

Whatever the uses will eventually be for ATM service, U.S. West plans to have the necessary hardware installed and operating by early July.

At a cost of about $1,000 per month, ATM service is intended for use by medium to large businesses. The equipment U.S. West must install for the service, however, lays the groundwork for DSL (digital subscriber line), which could provide low-cost, high-speed residential connections in the near future.


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