Customs will use StarLive for broadcast

The Customs Service will use new video streaming technology from Starlight Networks Inc., to broadcast live over the Internet a briefing on a system for collecting information from importers. The briefing, planned for Sept. 3, will be distributed over the Internet at the same time it is broadcast by satellite.

Jim Long, chairman of Starlight, said Customs is the second agency to use the company's StarLive application, introduced in February, although the firm has sold other products to other agencies. The Defense Department was the first government customer to use StarLive for an acquisition reform training program in May. Customs will be sharing DOD's installation for this week's broadcast at no charge.

Observers said the Customs event is one sign of growing interest among agencies in using Internet-based video and audio technologies. "There's a tremendous amount of initial interest, at least in examining the technologies that are available,'' for delivering video and audio online, said Al Lill, vice president and research director with Gartner Group. He said the most prominent applications for the technology are distance learning, telemedicine and faster information dissemination.

Streaming involves delivering data to a World Wide Web site in a steady flow, enabling multimedia information to be distributed in real time, rather than through a single large download. Software that enables such applications is becoming an Internet staple.

Starlight, which is being acquired by videoconferencing vendor PictureTel Corp., is the "most prominent'' firm in the industry for applications in which video quality matters, Lill said.

"Everyone doesn't have access to a satellite transmission,'' said David Boltson, TV production specialist for the Customs distance learning team. "We have searched for a technology to allow us to not only reach our Customs offices, which we currently do by live satellite, but also our commercial counterparts— importers, brokers and [other] interested parties.''

Customs will use StarLive to instruct employees and the public on a new way to file information about goods being brought into the country. The briefing will focus on the ACS Reconciliation Prototype, a new module of Customs' Automated Commercial System that would help speed the assessment of tariffs by allowing importers to submit data and update their accounts electronically.

Customs officials hope that StarLive will allow them to provide information to a wider audience than they have been able to reach so far. "We've been making outreach trips to various cities, [but] a lot of the importers we'd like to reach are not in cities that are feasible for us to go to,'' said Don Luther, program officer with the Customs Office of Trade Compliance. Some meetings are oversubscribed, he said, such as a recent meeting in San Diego where 300 people attended and some strained to hear from the hallway.

John Downey, deputy director for information technology management in the office of the Defense undersecretary for acquisition and technology, said Customs will use its own TV studio in Washington, D.C., to broadcast its program. Downey's office will capture the satellite feed and "pump it into our servers here.''

Users will be able to download plug-ins for viewing the broadcast from the DOD Video Service Center Web site, Viewers can link to the program live or launch a stored copy, which DOD plans to keep online for a month. StarLive provides different quality video feeds depending on whether a user has a high-speed or a dial-up connection.

"We're basically taking advantage of the Web,'' Long said. "We're building a Web-based application, which [provides] the ability to get everywhere.''

Although Customs does not plan an interactive broadcast, StarLive also can be used to collect text-based questions from viewers and deliver them to people giving presentations.


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