April 07, 1997

Distance Delievery - Educational, vocational and medical services will be extended across Alaska

April 7, 1997 NR 7-1997

Educational, vocational and medical services will be extended across Alaska on a new video channel known as Alaska Three using the State of Alaska's digital satellite delivery system. The new service, part of the continuing development of Alaska's telecommunications infrastructure, was announced today by a group of southwest Alaska and University of Alaska educators. Funded by the federal National Telecommunications and Information Administration with matching funds from the University of Alaska, the channel is expected to be up and running in time for fall classes.

"The innovative delivery system shows promise as a real-time solution for educators and health-care providers trying to provide educational services via telecommunications throughout Alaska," said Bob Medinger, executive chair of the Southwest Alaska Distance Delivery Consortium (DDC).

This new method of delivering courses and instructional materials uses the digital equipment installed over the past year by rural residents and public television to reduce costs and improve service. The Satellite Interconnection Project has multiple uplinks which eventually will allow Anchorage, Bethel, Fairbanks and Juneau to reach learners across the state using AT&T Alascom's Aurora II satellite.

Together with the University of Alaska Learning Cooperative and the UAF-Kuskokwim campus, Alaska Three developers plan to explore the many learning opportunities offered by the new digital system, said April Crosby, assistant to the president of the university.

"We do not intend to limit ourselves to broadcasting traditional classroom instruction as found in many technology-delivered courses," Crosby emphasized. "Through federal grants from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the support of the university, community-based organizations like the DDC and participation by AT&T Alascom, local phone companies like Unicom and the State of Alaska, much of the vital infrastructure is in place. We now have the ability to create and deliver the courseware of the future in a cost-effective and reliable manner."

Alaska Three is the fourth video service to be carried via satellite throughout Alaska by the Satellite Interconnect Project (SIP). The SIP restructured public telecommunications in rural Alaska. "This is not just about TV anymore," said Mark Badger, director of the Division of Information Services, the state office in charge of developing the satellite technology. "SIP helps provide for the basic infrastructure needs of all Alaskans. This opens Alaska to the forefront of technology-enhanced education as well as the whole telecommunications arena."

"The architecture of the new digital system has been built to enable citizen and regional contribution to the virtual classrooms of the future," Badger said. "Coupled with the data and computer-assisted learning capabilities, this project will provide Alaska educators and users with a `place for innovation', nurturing talent that will make Alaska a provider to the world's educational market in the next century, not just another of the consumers."

Through a partnership between K-12 school districts, the University of Alaska campuses, AT&T Alascom, and local phone companies, the Project is pursuing an exploration of data transmission over the satellite, according to Medinger. "The infrastructure has the potential of helping the Internet reach rural Alaskan students and it has become the focus of the DDC and the Alaska Three work together," he said. "A true revolution in terms of information access for education and economic development may be within our grasp. We now have the main players in the game, and the future of our people as the focus."

"The creation of Alaska Three and its exploration of data capability - in concert with commercial providers - brings the conversion of the old state system to full tenure," said Mark Boyer, commissioner of the state Department of Administration, the agency that has managed the project.

April Crosby, Fairbanks, 474-5922 or 474-7356
Bob Medinger, DDC, 543-4881
Mark Badger, 465-5735
Douglas Moore, SIP, 465-5781