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Internet future looks good to businessman

Bill Thorndike Jr. will have a few hours in his car later this week to contemplate how high-speed Internet connections could change the way he does business.

The president of Medford Fabrication has to make an unexpected trip to Portland on Thursday. He looked into flying but decided to drive when the best airline ticket price he could find on short notice was more than $400.

As Falcon Cable officials talked to business and political leaders Tuesday about how high-speed connections can make video conferencing an affordable option, Thorndike was right with them.

Put me in front of a good video conference and there's no question what I'll do, he said.

While some business certainly needs to be done in person, Thorndike said this meeting could easily be handled by video -- saving hours in driving time.

Those are the kinds of options that Falcon was pitching Tuesday as it laid out a host of ways businesses, schools and government agencies could use the high-speed connections it will offer in the Rogue Valley.

Falcon is one of several companies planning to offer connections with greater bandwidth -- the term used to measure how fast information can be sent electronically. The city of Ashland also plans to offer high-speed connections through its fiber ring.

The thing that was stunning was looking at all the applications, said Thorndike after Falcon's presentation. Your mind just goes wild.

The most eye-catching applications revolved around video conferencing. While current bandwidth limits make for choppy video feeds that are available only in a few locations, Falcon says its system can bring fast, clean video into most homes and businesses in the Rogue Valley.

Over the next few months, Falcon plans to roll out Internet access over cable modems for home, education and small-business users. The speed of those services will vary from 100,000 to — million bits per second (or 100K to — megabit).

That marks a significant upgrade from phone-based connections in the valley, which average speeds of about 28.8K. Falcon's mid-range product, which will guarantee 500K speed, can download files in less than a second that would take 16 minutes at 28.8K.

The 500K speed is capable of carrying quality video conferencing and will cost about $50 a month. Thorndike said that's the kind of technology -- and pricetag -- he's been waiting for.

It's wonderful to start seeing some of the fiber become economically viable, Thorndike said.

We see this need, said Southern Oregon University's Kevin Talbert. We don't have an easy mechanism to share data or do video conferencing. We have ways, but they are very expensive.

Because Falcon will not be the only provider of high-speed access, observers expect the price of the services to stay low once the ball gets rolling.

There's an advantage to Southern Oregon that there is more than one effort, said Talbert. We don't want a monopoly provider.

Falcon officials pointed out that video conference could be used for everything from meetings and employee telecommuting to parent-teacher conferences to live interaction between politicians and their constituents.

Falcon also said it plans to work with area Web site developers and small businesses to help them use the high-speed connections as a way to promote e-commerce -- selling goods and services online.

What we want to do is provide a great platform for small businesses to get on the Internet, said Kurt Heisler of ISP Channel -- Falcon's partner that will monitor and maintain the Internet access. Here's a chance for local businesses to expand in the Rogue Valley and beyond.

Falcon says a basic e-commerce Web site starts from about $1,500 in development charges and $20 a month in maintenance. Some heavy users will be offered direct fiber connections rather than modem hookups, allowing them high speed without clogging the network.

While software and high-tech companies may be the most visible users of high-speed access, Bruce Laird of the Oregon Economic Development Department said the need touches many types of business.

If you are an architect or a graphic artist or in any business where you are moving plans or graphics, he said, it's a bigger deal than you'd think it is.