DN: It’s not your grandfather’s way of connecting, is it?
RT: Absolutely not. We now have more access to more resources than has ever existed in any generation. Our teachers have more tools and so do students. And it just keeps increasing. I’m constantly impressed with how much students know about research and how fast they can pinpoint information. My generation, we’re the technological immigrants, we’re new to it, trying to keep up with it the best we can. But most kids are natives. They’ve always lived in a digital world. To them, it’s intuitive.
DN: And here in Utah we’re at the forefront of all this connectivity?
RT: I think we are the premier education network in the entire nation. Many states are making progress, but less than a handful are even close to what we do. We are extremely fortunate. I went to a recent conference called US Ignite. It’s a national initiative to expand broadband connections throughout the country, particularly in remote rural areas. The goal is to connect every school with at least 1 (gigabyte) of bandwidth. That’s down the road five to 10 years in most places, but in Utah we already have 1 gig connectivity to most rural and urban schools. Along the Wasatch Front all of our high schools have 1 gig connectivity and now they’re asking for 2 gig and we’re in the process of upgrading that to as much as 10 gig. We now have a metro ring along the Wasatch Front with 100 gig capacity to support advanced research at our universities.
DN: Why has Utah been able to move so quickly to the forefront?
RT: In a word, collaboration. The cooperation we have on all levels — the Legislature, the governor’s office, the State Board of Regents, school districts and schools,and telecom providers — is tremendous. That’s the key. When I was deputy superintendent at the state office I’d meet with cohorts from other states and talk about UEN. They’d say, “You have what?” They marveled that we could get everyone to sit down at the same table and agree on a single network. In a sense, UEN is the table where these divergent entities collaborate on behalf of students and educators. We’re more than a broadband network. We’re also a consortium of human collaborators who want the best for Utah students.
DN: How was Utah able to avoid the infighting and develop such a cohesive network?
RT: The Utah Legislature established UEN in 1993 to coordinate telecom technology for public education and higher education. But years earlier schools and the University of Utah were collaborating on the use of closed circuit TV in classrooms. Analog teleconferencing started in 1978 and later expanded and became known as EDNET. In 1986 Weber State’s TV station became available and the State Board of Regents and the U. of U. stepped in to establish KULC Channel 9 (later KUEN) to serve higher education and public education. Now all of our services are digital and consolidated as UEN. Technology has evolved, but the collaboration of public education and higher education has been ongoing since the start.
DN: You said you also collaborate with telecom providers?
RT: We own and operate only about 2 percent of our circuits and they’re in remote areas such as Navajo Mountain in San Juan County and Manila in Daggett County. For the rest of the state we contract with a variety of vendors. They range from big outfits like CenturyLink and Comcast to smaller firms like CentraCom, South Central, Strata and Beehive.
DN: So UEN is a public and private partnership? How does that work?
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