By Tim Leeds
HELENA Russ Cravens, community affairs director for West Communications International Inc., said that an advanced high-speed broadband service is now available in Havre.
"It really is a flexible system," he said, "designed to give customers much more flexibility than other systems we have provided."
Cravens said that the service, made available through asynchrous transfer mode (ATM) technology, is aimed at businesses with larger data requirements. He said the system transports digital signals for video, audio and data transfer at about 100 times faster than a high-speed T1 line.
Qwest's Montana Vice President Rick Hays, quoted in a press release, said "This high-speed broadband network will help businesses, schools and government agencies improve efficiency and expand their connections tot he Internet and other e-commerce applications."
Cravens said the system would be ideal for businesses that might need to be doing video conferencing, telephone communications and data transfer at the same time. He said the line would allow multiple communications at the same time, instead of needing separate lines for each function. For example, the ATM service could replace a dedicated line a Havre business has for communications with a Great Falls business or branch, providing much more flexibility for transmission, he said.
Cravens said the system is kind of like an airport, where people want to get on the plane, load freight and transport mail. He said it's much more efficient to use one larger plane to transport all of that, instead of using several smaller planes. That, he said, is exactly what the ATM technology does for video, data and voice communications.
The system will allocate as much of the bandwidth as necessary to transfer real-time transfers such as video or voice, Cravens said. He said, for example, if several users started a video conference, the system would reduce the amount allocated to data transfer to allow for the real-time video. Once the teleconference was over, he said, the system would increase the amount allocated back to the data transfer.
Plans for the network were first announced last June when the State of Montana contracted with Qwest to provide data, voice and video communications services. There are currently 10 Montana cities in the core network. Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Dillon, Great Falls, Helena, Miles City and Missoula are included in the $8 million project, as well as Havre. Century Telecomm has also deployed an ATM system, which connects Kalispell to the network as well.
Cravens said that surrounding communities could also sign up for the service, as long as they can get a high-speed connection, such as a T1 connection, to hook into the core network. A Qwest press release states that additional charges for outlying service would apply, but that as demand develops in a community, mileage charges can be reduced or eliminated.
Cravens said that while this service would not generally be needed for private communications need, such as a personal computer Internet connection, he said it could provide the foundation for a variety of other high-speed broadband services to be provided to businesses and consumers. He said it could eventually also expand to connect with other networks outside of Montana.
Hays, quoted in a press release, said "While the system will initially link 10 Montana communities, it will eventually become part of a growing broadband network that will help connect Montana with the world and the information economy."
In the press release, Hays commends the actions of the state in putting this technology in place.
"The state's commitment to this advanced network has really helped accelerate and expand the deployment of this new technology across Montana," he said.
"While our objective always is to find efficient and effective ways to deliver state services to our citizens, I'm exceptionally proud that this effort also is a stimulus to providing extraordinary new opportunities for Montanans," Gov. Marc Racicot said in comments announcing the contract last summer.