All of Wyoming’s far-flung schools are slated to be linked on what state school officials call the nation’s largest voice, video, and data network by July 1999.

The telecommunications company U.S. West has won an $18 million contract to design, construct, and manage the high-speed network. The project will connect roughly 400 public schools in Wyoming to the internet and to an education-focused, statewide intranet using an asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) network, which allows information in various forms to be transferred simultaneously.

U.S. West was awarded the contract after a seven-member technology panel appointed by Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Judy Catchpole considered proposals from various vendors. Construction of the network began this summer.

The new network will give students and educators high-speed internet access and daily, state-of-the-art videoconferencing capability. A series of 56K frame relay circuits will be used for data transfer among schools. The challenge was finding a way to connect a huge rural area with state-of-the-art technology, said Linda Carter, unit supervisor for data technology for the Wyoming Department of Education.

U.S. West will manage the basic technology and connectivity, and Wyoming will allow other state government entities and businesses to purchase access to the network as well, resulting in lower overall costs for the state.