National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis

C. Establishment of Statewide Data Network

A telephone rate case settlement will provide free data lines to all school buildings and libraries in Maine for five years. The plan includes training for network coordinators and end-users, computing hardware for sites lacking the minimum connection equipment, and a measure of flexibility in choice of line speed, based on a standard 56kb connection to frame relay switches. Network alternatives may be sought by local sites on the basis of "equivalent value funding."

The project was designed through a process of rapid negotiation rather than through a coordinated planning process. A network advisory board has been given the responsibility of recommending network policies and connection alternatives to the Public Utilities Commission, which has final authority.

Sites vary widely in readiness to participate. Training and network services must be tailored for distinct user groups in libraries and schools. Plans to monitor the network's deployment and to evaluate its impact on end-users have not been developed. Though many statewide and regional meetings have been held to explain the network to the institutions which will be connected, much confusion surrounds connection options, local hardware choices, funding for local network upgrades, and the source of ongoing training and support.

The state's Office of Geographic Information Services has produced digital maps of school districts and library locations which could be used in the design of training and identifying local projects and available expertise.

Characterization of public goals and dialogue:

Every community in the state is involved in this project, generally represented by librarians and school technology coordinators. Range of knowledge varies widely; geographic dispersion and job commitments prevent many participants from attending background meetings. Confusion prevails regarding local options and costs. No formal channels for sharing questions and expertise exists. There is some competition related to allocation of "equivalent value funding." A goal of the public process would be to create efficient information channels related to policies and options, while allowing regional development of local project options and peer resource and skill sharing.

Open questions:

If modern telecommunications networks "overcome the barriers of space and time," what positive role might spatial referents have in helping to optimize the effective use of network resources?

How might new information be identified which could cause the policy board to rethink present solutions, which were not the products of a coherent planning process?

What communication and discussion technologies could be used to facilitate this statewide public-input process?

Continue Situations: