Internet's Reality, Potential Spreading Morenet Puts Missouri `Ahead of Most States'

By Robert Sanford Of the Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 27, 1994 | Go to article overview

Internet's Reality, Potential Spreading Morenet Puts Missouri `Ahead of Most States'


Robert Sanford Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Growing like crabgrass in the sun, the Internet information network is burgeoning, sending out new shoots, new base nodes and new adjuncts here and there. Tendrils spread, more ground is covered, communication spreads.

The net makes up the much-touted Information Superhighway, or what will serve as one in the near future.

Missouri is attracted by the promise of quick, cost-effective communications, as are some other states. Missouri has pilot programs in place or planned at 20 libraries around the state.

At one level, the computer network system will serve elementary and secondary education. At another the users will be higher education and academic libraries. At another, the system will serve management of state government. In addition, the Missouri system will include community information service with the network available to residents at no cost, a freenet.

"Some other states have separate nets for different functions," said Stanley A. Gardner, assistant state librarian. "We cover the different functions in one system and I think that puts us ahead of most states in planning and building. We don't have to keep reinventing the wheel."

The central coordinating agency for the system is called Morenet, located in Columbia. The name is an acronym for Missouri Research and Education Network. The net has support from institutions, including the University of Missouri.

Morenet has adjunct nets operating at Columbia, Springfield, Lebanon and Pilot Grove. St. Charles is planning to come on line in 1995. Operating costs there are expected to be about $75,000 a year. Otherlocations are set to follow.

In the present operating group, the net at Pilot Grove stands out. Its name is RAIN, for Rural Area Information Network, and that is what it is, a tool for rural users to access the information in Internet. Pilot Grove is a town of about 700 people west of Boonville. It may seem odd that such a small place would be using the sophisticated net, but it works well, said David Jones, one of the founders.

Jones is executive vice president of Mid Missouri Telephone Co. The company put up a matching grant of $15,000 and allows non-profit RAIN to use space in a phone company building. School districts and libraries in the area use the service. Counties contribute to operating funds for RAIN, which has 12 access ports. This was all started when a resident began asking how farmers could connect to the net and enjoy quick communication at different locations.

***** In Fields And Classrooms

Today, users can communicate using electronic mail - e-mail - on bulletin boards, access information in data bases in the system, or get information about farming, including market reports.

Government advisories such as how to care for crops or how to raise new crops - canola, for instance - are available and can help farmers. Electronics also can assist in determining amounts of seed and chemicals needed and the rate of application - the calculations done precisely in order to realize rich crops that are necessary in highly competitive markets.

"I am impressed with what the net offers to schools," Jones said. "This includes distance learning. One school can have a physics teacher, another a Spanish teacher, another a French teacher. Classes taught by individual teachers can be experienced at some distance away at five schools, say, on the electronic net, whereas one small school could not afford to have a specialty teacher.

"And imagine this: Users of the net can have access to the whole collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Imagine what that can mean to a youngster growing up in a small town. The net bolsters the schools. If we don't take care of the schools, if we let them go down and down, then some small towns will just dry up."

People who have a personal computer and a modem can tap into RAIN. …

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