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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Joint effort connects school, Internet

By David Nutter

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 08 - October 17, 1996

A school in rural Giles County has become the first school in the world to be hooked up to the Internet by satellite technology.

The project, a joint effort between Hughes Aircraft, Virginia Tech, the New Century Council, and Giles County became operational in August and allows students at Eastern Elementary/Middle School high-speed access to the Internet that would be financially impossible to achieve at this time with a land-based system.

"Rural schools face special problems being connected to the Internet. While great strides have been made to lower the cost of connecting rural schools, the cost is still excessively high. While low-cost modems are available, it can take as much as 30 minutes to access many educational files now on the Internet. With wireless technology, massive amounts of data can be delivered to the students' doorsteps within seconds at a fraction of the cost," said Ed Whitmore, regional coordinator of the New Century Council.

Known as DirectPC, the system allows an operator to contact the satellite through a Hughes satellite center in New Jersey. The operator can then access the Internet and download the files at a rate of 12-million-bit-per-second (Mbps) directly into a PC. These files can then be shared with classroom teachers as part of their lesson plans.

When the New Century Council was developing its strategies for implementing the new-century vision, the council offered several proposals for enhancing the region's technological base. These strategies include making the region a national leader in wireless technology-the Wireless Valley, provide affordable access to the Internet for industry and government, and connecting all of the schools in the region.

"When you look at the dynamics between Hughes Aircraft and Virginia Tech, it was a perfect fit. Virginia Tech's expertise in information and wireless technology and its strong commitment to K-12 education made this a perfect example of the new-century vision," said Whitmore.

Whitmore also praised the efforts of state Sen. Bo Trumbo of Fincastle. Trumbo's district includes Giles County and he played an active role in convincing Hughes to select the Giles site.

"Senator Trumbo's leadership and enthusiastic support were instrumental in keep the project on track and bringing this project to Giles County. He deserves much of the credit," said Whitmore.