Jeanette Blain | Staff Writer | @JeanetteBlain
On Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015 the UVU managed field station at Capitol Reef National Park began receiving broadband internet service.
The research and education facility, nestled between a sand-stone cliff and Pleasant Creek, is completely off-the-grid. Previously, the only phone and internet connection that visitors and staff had access to was a limited satellite connection.
The new service creates a much needed communication infrastructure, which is good for emergencies, but it could also dramatically change the student learning environment at the site.
The Capitol Reef Field Station is a valuable resource for field study and hands-on learning. The station’s annual report for 2013-2014 shows that visitor usage has increased 15percent compared with the previous fiscal year. UVU programs account for up to a third of those visitors.
“Students (at the field station) can now pull up video resources. And, the students up here can interact with the station.” says Ray Walker, Associate VP and CIO of Information Technology at UVU.
The school was also able to install IP phones at the field station, which gives them direct telephone access to the Orem campus.
The project was first proposed nearly ten years ago, but didn’t get off the ground until the right combination of equipment and partnerships could come together.
Walker said the school has looked at many different options over the years in order to improve connectivity, but most were prohibitive because of the time and costs involved.
The Utah Education Network, set up by the Utah Legislature, provides all the network connectivity for public schools in the state. Last year, they donated used radios and antennas, which were capable of transmitting high-speed internet, to the project. This gift helped reduce the cost of setting up an infrastructure and it was the break UVU needed to move ahead with the plan.
“All we had to do was put in a solar-powered system to run the equipment,” Walker said.
A system of radio sites now extends a signal outside the national park where it connects to UEN and Beehive Telecommunications circuits.
UVU also signed agreements with the National Park system and the BLM in order to use the radio locations inside the park.
Overall, says Walker, the systems costs, “a little bit more than the satellite, per month, but not terribly different. At the same time we’re getting a lot more functionality.”
Since the additional cost for the new connection is minimal, Walker does not expect that students will see a change in fees for field station usage.