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Betalink Technologies

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First technology fair makes good connections

    Not long ago it seemed the realm of technology belonged to a handful of nerdy types with pocket protectors and a vocabulary understood by only a few. Not so anymore.

    Spearheading the effort to dispel such myths and bring technology education and improved infrastructure to the North Idaho region is BETA, the Bonner Education and Technology Alliance.

     Formed two years ago by the City of Sandpoint and individuals responsible for creating the North Idaho College satellite campus, the group is composed of some 20 members and a board of directors. Their mission is to form links with both business and community leaders and raise public awareness on the need for improved access to emerging technologies.

    On Tuesday, Oct. 30, the group held their first technology fair at the Sandpoint Community Hall. The event featured seminars by local technology experts as well as informative booths set up by regional technology businesses and education providers.

    “During the fair we made a lot of contacts and had some good networking,” said Stephen Drinkard, one of the founders and vice president of BETA. “From BETA’s point of view, we have met a good number of people who are technologically savvy and will be able to offer something of value to the group in the near future.”

    Drinkard said one of the recent challenges faced by BETA is to bring a more up-to-date technology infrastructure to the region. Citing a lack in high-speed Internet connections, such as DSL, and the high cost of T1 through T4 connections, he said the organization’s eyes are now focused skyward.

    Reasonably priced and now able to offer broadband connections, he said satellites offer high-speed solutions to rural communities similar to those found in North Idaho.

    One simple question raised by many in the debate for the need of faster Internet connections is “why?”

    “For the average person it’s something you have to experience,” said Drinkard. “At home I have a connection that is very slow — which is typical of people in Bonner County. I have to devise interim activities as web pages load. Then, if the wrong site comes up, it’s a waste of time.”

    Drinkard said the glut of bad information and waiting for sites to load is only the tip of the iceberg as far as justifying broadband connections.

    “Just think, if all of our doctors were on a wireless broadband network  they

could request information from Bonner General Hospital — or even X-rays — and have them arrive instantly,” he said. “The possibilities are endless.”

    The principle of time and access to information also applies to commerce. Countless businesses, both large and small, now depend on the Internet for business.

     “The importance of technology and how it relates to us is the key to economic development,” said Laura Bry owner of Sandpoint Macs, a web hosting, database and tech support provider for the Macintosh platform.

    Bry, BETA’s treasurer, agreed with Drinkard when it comes to an alternative to hard-wired broadband for small communities. She said providers of the connections seem to gravitate only toward larger urban areas whose market base can justify the service.

    “Unless the federal government mandates fiber optic services to everybody’s curbside, we won’t have broadband over the wire,” she said.

    Another member of BETA who depends on the Internet for business survival is Susan Daffron, owner of Logical Expressions. Daffron publishes a regional informative computer magazine and partners with her husband James Byrd, also a BETA member and computer programmer. The couple does much of their work from their rural home north of Sandpoint.

    Daffron said though the level of businesses connected to broadband technology amounts to around 40 percent nationwide, a survey conducted in her magazine, The Computer Companion, showed roughly 10 percent connected in the inland Northwest.

     “If we could bring in a better infrastructure to the region, it would be a more attractive place to do business,” said Daffron. “That would also have the benefit of creating more job opportunities.”

    For more information about BETA contact Stephen Drinkard at 208-255-1443 or log on to their web site at www.bonnereta.org

    Ben Silverman is a writer and musician who currently lives in Sandpoint and runs a studio out of his home.


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Ben Silverman

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