The point of all this, though, is not to talk about the literal meaning of the phrase, but rather the analogous meaning that there are a number of ways to accomplish a given task or reach a needed goal. Such is the case with the continuing construction of critical portions of the public I-Way.

For example, New York City's Institutional Network (I-Net), profiled in this column in November 1995, continues to connect all kinds of public facilities, from fire stations to administrative centers to public schools, largely through fiber lines provided as part of cable and competitive access provider (CAP) franchise agreements. On a different note, in the Austin, Texas metropolitan area, installation of the Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network (GAATN) is nearing completion by Southwestern Bell Telephone BDS/LAN, under contract with the GAATN Authority. Each entity participating in GAATN, however, retains ownership and use of dedicated fibers within the bundles being installed. Participants in GAATN include various government and educational entities like the City of Austin, the State of Texas General Services Commission, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) and the University of Texas at Austin. The network will connect more than 300 sites via about 280 miles of singlemode fiber.

GAATN is composed of 10 rings, utilizing a north and south "super ring" topology, with eight sub rings. Four of the rings are routed through AISD for central administration and telephone switching purposes. The multiple ring topology provides complete redundancy for GAATN participant communications.

A new factor concerning GAATN is the potential ability to gateway participant communications into the residential and business community network being pursued by CSW Communications. Such interconnection opens up opportunities to expand applications like interactive learning, telecommuting and electronic town meetings.

Another approach is exhibited by Montgomery County, Maryland's Fibernet project. Fibernet will ultimately employ about 550 miles of fiber optic cable throughout the suburban Washington, D.C. jurisdiction. It will link all manner of public, public-oriented and public gathering places and facilities, including hospitals, libraries, community services organizations and even Metro subway stops. Many applications will be facilitated, ranging from public information kiosks, to traffic control and monitoring (a critical need, as can be attested by those who have experienced Washington Beltway traffic jams) to the public schools' Global Access computer learning project. Montgomery County plans to build and maintain the network itself, estimated at a cost of about $65 million over 20 years. County estimates, though, indicate a savings of 10 times that figure over otherwise leasing fiber lines from private companies.

Standardized protocols and equipment

Still yet another twist on building public networks is Philadelphia's CityNet. Two years ago, Philadelphia was operating under an older style, terminal-to-mainframe, point-to-point, "turf-oriented" computing environment. Today, the city has moved to a dynamic, redundant, multiple ring fiber-based, client/server architecture that serves a multitude of uses and users. In Philadelphia's case, the fiber optic backbone and network connections are provided by Bell Atlantic through a negotiated tariff, approved at the state level.

As it was investigating CityNet development options, the city determined that several of its major problems with the environment at that time included a lack of network operating standards, inconsistent internal and outside vendor support and a lack of a clear-cut, designated authority to manage citywide networking functions. To remedy this, the city invested overall process development and control authority in the Mayor's Office of Information Systems (MOIS) and mandated a citywide, integrated network architecture that would be developed using standardized protocols and equipment. For example, the city determined that all boundary nodes connected to the fiber ring would be router-based, with routers provided by one vendor. LAN networking would be Ethernet-based, with access feeder hubs also provided by the same vendor.

What CityNet ultimately became is a more than 80- mile, diversely routed, four fiber, dual rotating ring network that supports 100 LANs which network several thousand PCs; more than 75 T-1 circuits; several thousand terminal-to-mainframe circuits and a number of other systems. It has several levels of integrated pro-active network management, Sonet upgrade capabilities and expansion potential to ATM transmission.

The right networking answer for any given city-whether it's a system like GAATN, Fibernet, CityNet or some other iteration-is going to depend on its individual networking needs, internal capabilities and external provider climate. With the public-private partnerships being developed, though, it would make sense for the cable industry to look at what Southwestern Bell, CSW Communications and Bell Atlantic have forged with the jurisdictions indicated in these examples.

Who knows? As local governments and cable providers both look to advance their networks, they might be able to skin a few cats - er... accomplish a few objectives - together.

Contact Tom Robinson at: