Frank Odasz, Director of Big Sky Telegraph

When people want an example of how successful community networking can be, they talk about Big Sky Telegraph. Frank Odasz, an educator at Western Montana College of the University of Montana, set up Big Sky to provide educational services throughout the state.

A photograph of Frank Odasz.

Using small grants and the technical help of Dave Hughes, the network started operation on January 1, 1988. Now over 1000 people across Montana use its educational facilities and e-mail service. Basic service is free, with Internet e-mail costing only $50 a year.

Big Sky offers affordable access in a rural setting because the technical base is cheap and simple. Local communities provide a small computer where people can dial in at any time. The small systems exchange files once a day with the central system at Western Montana College. The central system, in turn, performs file transfers with the rest of the world every night.

In this bulletin-board-like setup, delivery can be achieved within 24 hours without the need for expensive Internet connections (although the central system is on the Internet).

Montanans use Big Sky in many ways, including distance education (taking a course with a professor located far away), collaborative school projects, and electronic newsletters. Odasz hopes to embed the network deeply enough in public life that some people can earn their living over it.

Odasz is also on the board of the Consortium for School Networking, a grass-roots organization that helps teachers nationwide exchange curricula and other useful information.


Following is Frank Odasz’s statement about government policy and community networks.

Community Networks Benefit Federal Goals by Frank Odasz

Community networks can benefit the government by providing the training necessary for citizens to access government information electronically. Local experts can assist the general public in access to information and services through the convenience of email. Those government services most important for a given community can be tailored through customized online menus for enhanced ease of access by the public. A community network can potentially provide a single point of access for local, state and national government services, accessible with the help of friendly local online public servants.

Government CDROM databases can be economically mass-produced and made locally accessible on multiple community networks. Regularly available for updating, these databases could be tailored to the needs of specific communities, and could provide literally gigabits of government information at very low costs.

Community networks, even those based on simple BBS software, can potentially offer citizens individual Internet ID’s. Internet access across communities can provide global citizenship and entrepreneurial opportunities to local citizens via self-teaching online classes and email access.

The government’s biggest benefit from community networks will be the national tap on local innovations. But widespread grassroots innovations will be necessary for the potential of electronic delivery of government services to become reality, and for our nation to be an economic leader in the information age.

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