Montana NTN Golden Spike Event

A blank spot on the map of major research and education computer networks was officially filled in last summer with the completion of a new digital pathway across the northern states between Chicago and Seattle. The network offers increase in bandwidth for research, education, health care and government uses, with speeds 10,000 times greater than the typical broadband connection.

A Northern Tier Network Consortium "Golden Spike Event" was held at UM's School of Law to celebrate the new computer pathway.

About 60 attendees discussed the possibilities of the new 10-gigabit-per-second system, with other participants added via crystal-clear videoconferencing sessions between UM, North Dakota State University and Indiana University.

"This new network is 10,000 times faster than what people have in their homes," says Ray Ford, chief information officer for UM Information Technology. "It will allow Montana researchers and educators to do well-known things much faster and also inspire creativity in our students, faculty and researchers to invent uses that haven't been invented yet."

He says the network is only available for educational and research functions so they don't compete with private telecommunications businesses.

Jason Neiffer, curriculum director for the Montana Digital Academy, says the new network will be vital to his organization, which offered 47 online classes to students across Big Sky Country last fall. (For more information, visit "Our courses will take on a different tenor with the video conferencing and multimedia assets we will now have available," Neiffer says. "Our students will be able to experience virtual labs from 1,000 miles away."

As an example, Jayme Moore at the NDSU Electron Microscopy Center operated a microscope at Fargo, N.D., while using the high-speed Internet connection to display at UM the image one would normally see in the microscope eyepiece. Using a mosquito under a powerful magnification, individual hairs and eye facets instantaneously became visible to the watching Missoula audience as Moore zoomed into the image. She says that once an object was loaded, the microscope could be operated and the image displayed any place that had the proper bandwidth available.

In August, UM and the U.S. Forest Service Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory announced an agreement to use the new high-speed network to augment area research activities.

For more information on the Northern Tier Network Consortium, visit

Article from Vision Magazine 2010.