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WSU Explores Solutions for ‘Digital Divide’ Problem

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University is one of six institutions receiving National Science Foundation funds to help develop and deploy advanced services and technologies via satellite to improve Internet services to low-income, rural and inner-city Americans.

The term, “digital divide” often is used to describe the Internet access gap between low- and higher-income Americans, and between rural and inner-city Americans.

The National Science Foundation is funding a three-year grant of more than $4 million for the Advanced Internet Satellite Extension Project. The project is being coordinated through the American Distance Education Consortium, a distance education consortium based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. ADEC will hire a project director and other staff to implement the program.

Scott Fedale, chair of the information department for the College of Agriculture and Home Economics, and Tony Wright, the department’s computer resource coordinator, are heading up WSU’s participation.

Fedale said the project is still being designed so WSU doesn’t know how much of the $4 million will come its way. That will depend on decisions to be made as the project unfolds.

ADEC will lead the research and development project, which will seek wireless Internet solutions to better serve rural and remote learning centers, businesses and offices. It also will focus on improving Internet delivery to tribal colleges, historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions.

ADEC is a consortium of 58 state universities and land grant colleges. In addition to the core institutions identified, ADEC expects that many of its member institutions will become involved in the project. A council including representatives from the historically black colleges, the tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions will be established shortly. Also a “blue ribbon” panel of well-known experts in teaching and learning methods will be established.

Tachyon Corp., San Diego, Calif., a global wireless Internet provider that carries network traffic via satellite, also will participate.

Among the questions to be addressed by the project are:

  • How to deliver Internet services without land lines, at a reasonable cost to rural and under-served learning communities;
  • Whether satellite technology will work to deliver these services; and
  • How best to assure that networking and learning applications developed within Internet 2 can be available to rural learning centers and colleges and universities that are not part of the Internet 2 implementation.

The project will include traffic characterization and measurement. The future use of the Internet for research and education will involve more interactive and collaborative applications. There are key questions about traffic flows between sites, frequency, duration and quality of the service delivery.

ADEC is particularly interested in how well this type of system can be developed and used for distance education. Future learning applications will need to advance beyond electronic mail, web and other services. Voice and video as well as document sharing and display are important to some education programs.

The project also will examine the effectiveness of learning using various media attributes. High bandwidth applications like those being deployed under Internet 2, offer realism to the learning environment. Increased bandwidth has the potential to improve learning through symbols and visuals and increase two-way communication, active engagement and rapid adaptation to learners.

Learning more about the possibilities for use of satellites in delivering rich Internet-based education applications also is critical for global expansion of the Internet. ADEC recently cooperated with the Midwest International Agricultural Consortium and Tachyon to demonstrate and test this system in Mexico City.

Leaders from Mexico and Latin America who attended were very interested in the potential to deliver more courses and programs in the Western Hemisphere through satellite and radio wireless technologies.

Also participating in the program are the University of California, North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T University, the University of Illinois and The University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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