Video net connects Oklahoma

Video net connects Oklahoma

Oklahoma saves on travel expenses and state workers' driving time by using a PictureTel 960 videoconferencing system for routine training in far-flung corners of the state.

Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug. Oklahoma officials are hoping the statewide network, OneNet, can help them be the former by saving money on what they call 'windshield time,' the hours state employees spend driving throughout Oklahoma for routine training.

Oklahoma's OneNet has been connecting the Sooner State's citizens to voice, data and video since the mid-1990s [GCN/State & Local, March 1998, Page 27]. In the past year or so, several state agencies have been saving money and time by using OneNet's videoconferencing capabilities.

One of the most important functions of OneNet is its role as a telemedicine network, said Bill Johnson, OneNet's network operations manager. Fifty-one state-owned hospitals and several for-profit, private hospitals transmit digital X-rays over the network, Johnson said.

Positive outlook

A small hospital in a remote, sparsely populated section of Oklahoma might have an X-ray technician on call in the middle of the night, but it probably wouldn't have a radiologist available, Johnson said. With OneNet, a technician can scan an X-ray, send it via e-mail to a radiologist at the other end of the state, and together they can make a diagnosis. The whole process would take a few minutes.

Oklahoma's Environmental Quality Department has been a big user of OneNet's videoconferencing feature, Johnson said. For example, backhoe operators and other construction workers are required by the state to take classes on environmental topics such as septic systems.

Before OneNet, workers had to drive from all over the state to Oklahoma City to attend the classes. Now they can go to one of four videoconferencing sites scattered around the state. 'They don't have to pay for a hotel or spend all that time driving to the training site,' Johnson said.

The Corrections Department uses OneNet's videoconferencing feature for distance learning and video arraignments.

Oklahoma's most visible use of OneNet is in its schools. Eighty percent of Oklahoma schools receive Internet service over OneNet, said Kurt Snodgrass, executive director of communications for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. OneNet is a division of the department, although it is predominantly a kindergarten through Grade 12 network.

More than 1,000 of OneNet's endpoints are in Oklahoma elementary and secondary schools. In 1999, Sandy Garrett, superintendent of the Education Department, issued grants of up to $50,000 apiece to 165 public school districts to pay for H.323 video over IP videoconferencing equipment. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. of St. Louis issued 72 similar grants. And some public school districts are going out and buying their own videoconferencing equipment because the prices have come down so much, Snodgrass said.

Three-way conferences

OneNet uses three videoconferencing configurations. At the high end is a classroom built around the VS4000 videoconferencing system from Polycom Inc. of Milpitas, Calif. The system fits into a 19-inch cabinet and uses H.323 specifications for transmitting video over packet-switched networks.

The mid-level configuration uses a PictureTel 960 or 970 videoconferencing system from PictureTel Corp. of Andover, Mass. It comes on a console that teachers can roll around the room, Johnson said.

The third and most rudimentary configuration is a self-contained Polycom ViewStation videoconferencing system that also uses H.323 digital video standards, Johnson said.

As yet, no one has figured out the cost savings of OneNet's videoconferencing capabilities, Snodgrass said. 'It's mostly anecdotal at this point, but I bet we could quantify the savings, and they would be in the millions.'

In the next three or four years, every government manager at every level will be using OneNet's videoconferencing, Johnson said. 'We're really looking at the tip of the iceberg.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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