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Conference shows broadband's future

WEST VALLEY CITY — In the E Center on Monday, a Utah Valley State College aviation instructor operated a flight simulation program on a giant computer screen. "Flying" behind his jet plane was a plane being piloted by a UVSC student working at a flight simulator miles away in Orem.

Next to the instructor, two UVSC students raced cars in a Microsoft Xbox video game. The gamers they were racing against were nowhere near the E Center, though — they, too, were interacting via the Internet.

The entire room, full of what was termed the Utah Valley Experimental Computer Lab, was connected to the outside world by one thin fiber-optic cable. So as one student carried out remote-controlled electronics experiments and the aviation teacher sent comments to his student pilot, it was all done — in high-speed real time — thanks to the E Center and UVSC's connections to the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency.

The display was part of the Broadband Cities 2005 conference, which opened Monday at the E Center and will run through Wednesday. The conference, chaired this year by UTOPIA executive Paul Morris, brought about 500 community and business leaders — many of them from outside the United States — to West Valley to learn how cities and communities worldwide are connecting their residents and businesses to the information superhighway.

"The U.S. really lags behind in this technology," UTOPIA spokeswoman Maura Carabello said. UTOPIA is a relatively recent — and sometimes controversial — partnership between city governments and the private sector. It seeks to lay a fiber-optic infrastructure and offer service providers to allow those in member cities to use the Internet and send and receive video and other data at ever-higher speeds.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. opened the conference with a real-time question-and-answer session with a group of Orem elementary school students. Morris gave his opening remarks from home, appearing thanks to a Web camera and high-speed Internet.

The UVSC display sought to showcase how technology like that being used by UTOPIA and the smaller iProvo project can aid in education. Technology Dean Tom McFarland said UVSC has the largest aviation training program of any university in the country, but some students — many of them in southern Utah — don't have access to flight-simulation time because of cost and distance.

"We're trying to find inexpensive ways to do this advanced training," he said.

He envisions a day — in the near future — when a far-away student can sit in front of his home computer and log flight-simulation hours under the watchful eye of an instructor hundreds of miles away.

Similar possibilities exist for other students, such as engineering students who have trouble making it to their lab time.

Dr. Harvey Mecham, a chemist and the school's scientist-in-residence, said Utah needs to produce more experts in electronics technology, and virtual control of a distant lab like the one on display Monday could help expand the pool of eligible students.

"We have the capacity to run a lab 24/7," he said. "It's not really distance learning. It's interactive."

Other companies and organizations also showed how high-speed technology can increase the range of possibilities for businesses and individuals alike. Sony IVE, which stands for Instant Video Everywhere, is an advanced teleconferencing technology that allows users to have video-telephone conversations over their computer, in front of a Web cam, without any lag time.

Callers can leave voice-and-video messages if they call an IVE user who doesn't answer. When a call is missed, the user's cell phone can be paged and the user can go online and download the missed video call. Calls can be saved and their video and audio replayed later.

IVE costs subscribers $49 monthly.

Sony also has a larger-scale version of the technology that can be used for international conference calls and other distant business calls that require face-to-face interaction. The technology was used by ESPN during the NFL and NBA drafts, as reporters interviewed distant coaches without the lag time common of satellite interviews.