Grants modernize city services

U.S. Conference of Mayors

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The city of Lowell, Mass., dates back to the early 1820s. City Hall — its second one, in fact — was constructed in 1893. And some of the building's telephone lines are more than 60 years old.

History's about to change — for the telephone lines. Through a grant valued at $100,000, the city will rewire the building, enabling employees to have such modern conveniences as voice mail for the first time.

The grant to Lowell was one of six awards to cities or school districts that 3Com Corp., in cooperation with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, announced June 9 during the latter's annual meeting in Denver. The winners each will get $100,000 in 3Com hardware, software and/or in-kind services.

The six winners were selected out of more than 160 applications, double the total that the company sifted through six months ago in its previous award phase, said Bill Swift, the company's education marketing manager. Since 3Com started the Urban Challenge Program four years ago, it has awarded 46 grants totaling about $4.6 million.

Lowell is Massachusetts' fourth largest municipality and is located 38 miles northwest of Boston. Officials there were exploring how to upgrade City Hall's telecommunications infrastructure, add functionality and reduce costs when Miran Fernandez became the city's chief information officer about a year ago.

Fernandez had experience using 3Com's NBX voice-over-IP-based system, so he decided to apply to the company's grant program.

The new system will allow the city to build call trees with language options to help the city's diverse population of 105,000, Fernandez said, adding that the NBX system is relatively easy to implement compared with other systems.

"It's a full-service PBX [private branch exchange] in a box," he said.

Although the grant is only sufficient to outfit City Hall, Fernandez said the system is expandable and the city eventually will deploy it over the infrastructure. The city government has more than 1,500 analog lines connecting more than 60 sites.

Other grant winners include:

* Colorado Springs School District 11, which will upgrade computer labs at 56 elementary, middle and high schools, moving from shared Ethernet connections to switched Ethernet connections using managed switches.

* Hampton, Va., which will upgrade local-area networks at four high schools to Gigabit Ethernet speed using new-generation switches. It also will deploy 43 megabits/sec lines at the schools, enabling them to offer distance learning and video streaming services.

* The Kansas City, Mo., School District, which will provide a new Fast Ethernet network, giving 26 kindergarten through 12th grade schools access to interactive learning software, video streaming and other high-bandwidth applications.

* Newark, N.J., in cooperation with New Community Corp., a community development organization, will deploy a wireless local-area network connecting several community centers and schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods to promote computer-based learning.

* Temple, Texas, will deploy a networked telephony system, Gigabit Ethernet switches and wireless systems to provide advanced voice, data and video services for its Temple College Business Training and Incubator Center, an economic development vehicle.

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