Before it was the World Wide Web, the Internet started life as DARPAnet, a nationwide computer network that connected U.S. government with the nations leading research universities.
Although students and faculty members at virtually all universities and many school systems routinely access the Internet through their local networks today, gaining access from remote campuses is difficult.
Thats about to change through an initiative called Education First, a cooperative effort of two educational management organizations, based in Minnesota, and two Massachusetts-based wireless technology companies working to turn the entire educational community into one giant coast-to-coast hot spot.
According to Jo Boettcher, chief operating officer of the Broadband Alliance, one of the sponsoring educational organizations, the effort is the latest development in the fast-moving trend toward convergence on the nations campuses.
Boettcher noted that the educational community has made a "huge investment in footprint. Now were looking at the next way of applying that technology."
"We saw the trend in wireless communications," said Boettcher.
Education First, she said, "allows a virtual network so educators can share information as they have mobility. As we know, education is moving in that direction."
Bluesocket and Airpath Wireless Inc., based in Massachusetts, will provide the security, authentication and back office management that handles the technical hand-off between students home campus networks and the networks from where they log in.
Airpaths roaming agreements with iPass, Brick, Sprint, SBC and other providers with national and international hot-spot networks will also enable students and faculty members to log on via commercial hot-spots, as well as enable business persons to get back to their corporate networks when visiting member campuses.
About 80 million American students attend some 7000 universities.
If all sign on, Education First, combined with AirPaths corporate footprint, would compose the largest public hot-spot network in the world, according to Airpath CEO Todd Myers.
Interuniversity connectivity is not new. Its been happening on many campuses—but not easily.
"Some of the universities that have already deployed Wi-Fi have worked together to create peering arrangements with one another," said Myers.
"Students change every semester, so managing credentials becomes an IT nightmare," he added, "especially if you were to have all these individual peering arrangements and have to constantly keep that up to date."
Boettcher said she agreed. "In the university market, the peering relationship is a very taxing exercise," she said. "Education First allows some of that hindrance to go away."
Participating institutions will join the Education First service through The National Joint Powers Alliance, a nonprofit nationwide purchasing clearinghouse for schools and universities.
Education First will also offer the program to schools, kindergarten through grade 12, and will work to acquire Wi-Fi networks at reduced costs to those that dont have them.