Marines at Camp Pendleton call home with kiosk videophone

Marines at Camp Pendleton call home with kiosk videophone

For many young Marines, their tour of duty is also their first experience living far from home. Keeping in touch with family is tough without telephones and computers.

That's why Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) is about to install pay-per-minute Internet kiosks in a dozen barracks at one of the Corps' major installations, Camp Pendleton in southern California.

Eventually, the service plans to install kiosks with built-in video cameras and microphones at all 140 of the camp's barracks, said Lane Jones, director of MCCS services at Camp Pendleton.

The kiosks, developed by WorldCom Inc., have custom software to manage their internal computers remotely with little need for human intervention.

Camp Pendleton occupies 204 square miles near San Diego. It's about one-fifth the size of Rhode Island and has a large, spread-out population. Residents who lack personal transportation face problems in getting to the Internet. From the north end of the base, it's a lengthy trip to the library, which provides some basic Internet access.

Each barracks houses up to 300 junior enlisted Marines aged 18 to 25, and it is 'definitely where people congregate at the end of the day,' Jones said. 'If you want Internet access to pick up your e-mail, typically you want it now.'

To test acceptance, Camp Pendleton will start with 12 kiosks that will arrive this month. Once MCCS staff members get the bugs out, they will order a second dozen kiosks and eventually equip all the barracks.

Camp Pendleton started looking at freestanding kiosks about a year ago, Jones said. The base already had a contract with WorldCom subsidiary Military Communications Centers Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn., to provide phone centers, or trailers where Marines make personal calls from private booths. A few centers also provide Internet access, but some are miles away from the barracks.

'Now you'll be able to walk down to the recreation area where there's a kiosk and sign on,' Jones said.

Kiosk use will cost 10 to 14 cents per minute, although the exact fee is yet to be determined.

Info Touch Technologies Corp. of Burnaby, British Columbia, designed the kiosks for WorldCom, said Jennifer L. Spade, director of global managed services for WorldCom Global Markets. The kiosks provide e-mail, video mail, electronic bill-paying and other services.

Info Touch's Surfnet Premiere software manages the kiosk functions, said Hamed Shahbazi, the company's chairman and chief executive officer.

By moving the cursor with the kiosk's built-in touchpad and clicking buttons, a user can go directly to a Web browser, several popular e-mail services, video mail or advertised online services.

Each kiosk's built-in webcam and microphone will record short audio-video messages that Surfnet Premiere can send to designated e-mail recipients. A built-in Compaq Computer Corp. PC is optimized for kiosk use, Shahbazi said, and a watchdog device will automatically reboot the kiosk if necessary.

Takes payments too

The kiosks have peripherals for accepting payments by credit card and cash, Shahbazi said. Eventually they will have check readers for making electronic payments and stored-value cards for prepaying kiosk time.

Once on the Internet, Marines can use any Web e-mail service.

The kiosks will have filters that officials hope will restrict inappropriate content, Jones said.

Initially there will be no time limits on kiosk use. If long lines of Marines are waiting, it's a sign that the barracks needs another unit.

'That's really a very good problem to have,' Jones said.

Officials are talking with the base's cable television provider, Cox Communications Inc. of Atlanta, about high-speed Internet connections.

'We want to give [kiosk customers] an exceptional level of service,' Jones said.

In addition to the barracks kiosks, Camp Pendleton will have an Internet cafe in a new recreation building under construction. Slated to open next spring, it will also hold a video rental store and a coffee shop, Jones said.

Base officials are considering a second Internet cafe in an existing 7,000-square-foot video store designed around a New York urban theme.


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