Tech, BEV announce initiatives
By David Nutter
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 29 - April 23, 1998
Virginia Tech and the Town of Blacksburg, under the auspices of the Blacksburg Electronic Village project, has announced several new initiatives covering a wide variety of activities in the area.
The Blacksburg Electronic Village, best known as the BEV, is now providing increased help and assistance to community and civic groups with the new BEV Community Connections program. In the past, the BEV has provided web space to community groups, but the Community Connections program bundles a web site, a mailing list, and two permanent e-mail accounts. This increased level of service is in response to requests from civic groups for more network services.
Andrew Cohill, the director of the BEV project, said research conducted by the BEV locally indicates that civic groups who use mailing lists tend to see higher levels of volunteer participation in group activities, including meetings.
Cohill said, "It's simply not true that when people get connected, they stay home. In fact, it looks like they spend more time on community and civic projects after getting on line." The BEV is preparing a free information seminar for civic groups to help them learn how to use on-line resources more effectively.
Cohill also said the number of residential and apartment access to high-speed connections is increasing. He said high-speed cable modem access is now available to cable television subscribers, offering an alternative connection to traditional modem-pool access.
College Park Apartments on Patrick Henry Drive has adopted Virginia Tech's pioneering "port-per-pillow" model for Internet access, with a direct, high-speed connection in every bedroom of the new complex. Although the apartments are still under construction, a College Park representative indicated that all but two of the 108 new units are already leased. Each apartment has four bedrooms, and an Ethernet port will be installed in each bedroom.
Foxridge Apartments, an original participant in the BEV Ethernet project, announced that they are in final negotiations to increase the number of Ethernet apartments, from 108 units to 276 units. Like College Park, Foxridge indicated they also believe the Virginia Tech "port-per-pillow" approach is the right one. A Foxridge spokesperson said they will be phasing in Ethernet for all 1,500 apartments over the next year.
The university and Bell Atlantic have announced that six other apartment complexes with Ethernet that have been jointly managed as part of the BEV project would be turned over to other ISP's in Blacksburg. These apartments include the Jefferson Apartments, Tech Terrace, The Chase, Ivy Gardens, and Cedarfield. Pheasant Run and Point West Commons also offer Ethernet service.
Erv Blythe, Virginia Tech's vice president of information systems and one of the founders of the BEV project, said this was part of the original long-term planning for the Blacksburg Electronic Village. "When Tech and Bell Atlantic installed Ethernet in Blacksburg apartments in 1994, it was the first of its kind in the world. It's now time for the university to focus on newer, experimental community-networking systems and let the private sector enhance and expand this service in Blacksburg."
The BEV also announced that it is working with the Town of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech to implement a NAP (network access point) in the downtown area. An NAP provides a common access point for Internet service providers (ISP's) and Internet-related businesses to exchange local packets. Currently, an e-mail message sent from Virginia Tech to any of the other modem-pool providers typically makes an extended trip around the east coast, including Washington, D.C. The NAP will eliminate that inefficiency and reduce costs to local businesses by "keeping Blacksburg data packets in Blacksburg."
Ron Secrist, Blacksburg town manager, said, "The goal of this effort is to make it easier for small, innovative start-up companies to get into the Internet business in Blacksburg." Secrist also noted that the presence of the NAP in the downtown area will make it easier for small businesses downtown to get the same kind of lower cost access to the Internet that is now so important for business growth. It will also provide improved performance for apartment Ethernet users and business users connected to local ISP's.
Secrist said the BEV project has created new jobs and companies in Blacksburg, including local and regional Internet providers such as U.S. Internet, Net Access, Blacksburg.net, Citizens Internet, and iPlus Internet Services.
Blythe said the BEV project was still an active project of Virginia Tech, and that the university would continue to support the community with innovative and experimental networking projects. "The BEV group continues to provide education programs and services to local community civic groups and the town government. The NAP project is a logical first step towards helping all of southwest Virginia get the same kind of high-bandwidth services that metropolitan areas will have." Blythe said the NAP effort fits well with Virginia Tech's successful bid to obtain a license for LMDS wireless communications services for the area.
As an education and outreach program of Virginia Tech, the BEV serves the public by sharing information and resources with the goal of improving communities and civic participation. A survey conducted in the fall of 1997 showed that 83 percent of town residents are using electronic mail and the Internet, making Blacksburg the "most-wired" community in the world.