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Looking Ahead Speech • Sol Trujillo

Prepared for Sol Trujillo, President, US WEST
Delievered at Telecon Conference, Anaheim, CA

Good afternoon.

I’ve been asked to talk about distance learning today, and I think it’s especially fitting that we are meeting next door to Disneyland.

Not just because some of our ideas may have a Fantasyland quality to them, but because this is the place where dreams take form.

Of all the creations of Walt Disney’s fertile imagination -- his memorable characters, movies, and theme parks, the one he was most excited about in his later years was EPCOT center.

Disney passed on in 1966, before it was complete. And someone said, “Isn’t it a shame he never lived to see his idea realized?”

One of Disney’s creative people answered: “But he did see it -- that’s why it’s here.”

Nothing becomes real unless it is first held as a vision, and that’s why we’re here today --

-- not just to see the latest telecom tools, but to envision how they can be used to craft a better future.

The vision for distance education is clear – to use these wondrous new tools to build a genuine learning culture in America.

… a learning culture that is not confined to a classroom, or a corporate training center, or even a home computer, but one that encompasses all of this and more…

… a learning culture that is lifelong, and available to all…

… a learning culture that allows each of us to be more productive, and more globally competitive – to literally out learn our competitors. Out learn them, and out earn them.

… a learning culture that allows us not just to make a better living, but to make our lives more personally enriching and rewarding.

That may sound like Disneyland dream stuff, but it really isn’t.

The timing is right, right now, to begin building.

At US West, for example, we’ve already begun.

In Scottsdale, Arizona, we’re building a community of 6,000 in which every home is integrated into a high-speed voice, video, graphics, and data network.

Any resident can take remote college classes over the Net… voice and e-mail instructors… easily access and communicate with experts in any field, anywhere in the world to get the latest thinking.

Yet learning takes many forms. The individual in this community can attend town hall meetings and learn about candidates in his and her living room via the network. There’s even a health connection, where the doctor does make house calls -- electronically.

And there are other, equally utopian examples, already in place.

In Portland and Beaverton, Oregon, for instance, we have linked five engineering schools using asynchronous transfer mode technology. Engineering students in all of these schools work with Intel engineers, in real time, on design and development projects.

At US West, we are involved with many such efforts in an effort to take a genuine leadership role in community education and distance learning.

And while I’d like to pat myself on the back for this, truth is that US West has special interest and needs for distance learning because we are… ah, how can I say this… we’re geographically challenged.

US West serves more than 25 million customers in 14 rather large Western and Midwestern states. While we have several major metropolitan areas, for the most part, our people are spread out over an area that’s larger than Australia (?) or Europe (?).

Being geographically challenged has inspired us to take a leadership role in distance learning, yet it has made use realize that when it comes to learning, every individual is geographically challenged.

In this Knowledge Age, the only competitive advantage any individual, any company, and any country has is in the ability to learn and apply the learning in a rapidly and radically changing world of products and ideas.

As Peter Drucker said: “Education has become a condition of national survival.

“The essential new fact is that a developed society and economy is less than fully effective if anyone is educated to less than the limit of his potential."

So universal, life-long education is a vision born of necessity.

It is the ideal. But as someone once said, “Idealism is great. It is only when idealism approaches reality that it becomes prohibitively expensive.”

That’s certainly the case with the technologies of distance learning.

The ideal situation would be to have universal, video-quality two-way communications in every home, school, and office.

Walt Disney was right when he said, “Of all our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.”

Fiber optic is the current “ideal” way of accomplishing this. Glass technology is the stuff science fiction is made.

A single strand the size of a human hair, with thousands of bands of light, and each band carrying the equivalent of several hundred voice messages simultaneously.

Estimates place going the last miles -- stringing fiberglass lines to every home in America -- at around 300 billion dollars.

That’s the cost equivalent of several moon shots, and dwarfs the twenty-year expenditure for building our interstate highway system.

Yet fiber optic delivery, at least in metropolitan centers, is coming.

US West Communications has 1.65 million miles of fiber lines already in service, and we’re laying more every day. Fiber optic delivery will evolve and come on line over the next ten to twenty years simply as demand grows, and wave-length technology improves.

A more immediate answer is the long-awaited Digital Subscriber Line.

Just a couple of weeks ago in Phoenix, US West offered the country’s first commercial DSL service.

And we’re working flat out to make this technology available to the vast majority of customers in all of the 14 states we serve.

DSL will provide video telephony, computer-aided services, high-speed data transmission, video conferencing, and much more.

We call our service MegaBit because it does deliver a million bits of two-way transmission simultaneously.

That’s a quantum leap ahead. It means internet service that is 25 times faster than the most common existing modem technology.

Home, school and office can be connected continuously, which means no more delays logging onto the Net, and no possibility of getting booted off at peak use hours.

This digital delivery system doesn’t even require stringing a second copper wire that last mile. You can actually receive and make telephone calls on the same line -- at the same time -- that you are browsing the Net.

DSL, of course, does have its limits, and it’s costs.

Yet the cost of all of these technologies will continue to come down, as Moore’s law works its wonders.

Both in computer and delivery technologies, we fully expect to see dramatic breakthroughs and exponential changes over the next few years.

In fact, these technologies will improve in ways not even someone with the imagination of a Walt Disney could begin to imagine.

Yet the problem is we can’t wait. The need for universal and readily accessible life-long learning is here and now.

We need to find ways now to address the cost of progress, or in
Fact, we may never get to that future ideal.

One of the ways, I believe, is to take a far more holistic view of distance learning.

We speak of distance learning, and teleconferencing for business and government, and high-speed data communications for commerce, as if they were mutually exclusive. They are not.

In Oregon, for example, they realized that establishing advanced technology for one need, could serve all. We helped Oregon install Frame Relay Service – circuit based package switching, for the state’s lottery network.

Now that this infrastructure is in place, it can be used to connect schools, businesses, and homes, and to serve all of the educational and growth needs of the state.

By bringing together governments, the business community, and educators into consortia, we can not only share our vision, and our costs.

And while we’re thinking holistically, we can find more ways to transfer and integrate technology from one sphere to the next.

At US West, for example, we’ve tackled the problem of having three tiers of communications systems – local area networks, wide area networks, and I.P. networks, none of them speaking the same language.

So we’ve developed protocols which do for communications what Esperanto was supposed to do for language, but didn’t.

Efforts like this can eliminate complexities can reduce the costs, while improving the scope of communications.

Next, I believe we should defer to the wisdom of Disney’s friend, Jiminey Cricket, who said, “It’s what you do with what you got” that counts.

While it may be blasphemy to say so at this conference, we don’t have to go even higher levels of technology, to connect that last mile with fiber optics, or even DSL, to move aggressively ahead on distance learning.

“What we’ve got” is already the essentials for a viable continuously learning culture.

We have copper lines that connect every home in America, home computers, and the ubiquitous Internet.

They are all we need right now to more aggressively develop distance, and life-long learning.

The challenge is really not hardware, but human ware. The challenge is applications.

There is no reason why we can’t connect the dots now.

Outstanding distance learning problems incorporate televised lectures, with on-line chats between students, and e-mail office hours with professors.

Programmed learning is ideally suited for the existing Internet. And we can easily go beyond that to “intelligent tutoring,” to defining what the individual knows, and work from that baseline.

At US West, we have a number of highly-success efforts underway to tech teachers to fully use these technologies, to broaden their vision, enhance their resources, and extend their reach.

I would suggest that we all do to focus on fully-utilizing the capacity we now have to develop more innovative educational applications, for school, distant degree programs, and continuous learning.

Accessibility to the internet is another opportunity.

To have truly universal education, it has to come into the home. And the vehicle to access this information highway is a home computer.

The technology exists, yet it’s far from universal. Only about 14 percent of the American homes have a computer with a modem.

Even adding a few percent for those who are provided with computers at work, that still means that 80 percent or more of the American people have no access.

If the Internet is the lifeline to life-long learning, as most of us believe it is, then 20 percent access is woefully inadequate.

It makes the term “universal” applied to education as ludicrous as “world series” applied to an American-only sport competition.

The simple reason that home computers are not universal is that they’re not easily affordable.

As Dave Barry says, “There are only two kinds of people today -- those with personal computers, and those with several thousand extra dollars of annual disposable income.”

Moore’s law promised that we’d halve the cost of computing every 18 months. But when it comes to prices, more’s the pity, for an average p.c. today costs between $ 2,500 and $ 5,000, and a thousand or so more with modem, printer, and periferals.

Add to this the ongoing cost of software upgrades, which has led to the First Law of Computer Ownership, which is that any given program, installed and running, is obsolete.

The problem, of course, is that we engineers and software designers can’t resist the temptation to add complexity.

As one engineer told me, “If it ain’t broke, it probably doesn’t have enough functions yet.”

To make internet-delivered education universal, we’re going to have to go the other way. We’re going to have to simplify.

One encouraging solution is Networked computers.

Essentially, this takes the complexity and programming out of stand-alone p.c. and places these functions in accessible, centralized networks via the Internet.

Intel, Sun, and Microsoft have all proposed systems which would be based on stripped-down computers that a family could purchase somewhere between $500 to $700.

A couple of weeks ago, IBM added its voice, announcing a project with Intel to develop its own business Networked Computer system.

Another positive aspect of Networked Computers is that they are really a logical extension to what we’ve learned, and are learning, about networked systems in our public schools, government agencies, and major corporations.

There are natural synergies here with what many of you in teleconferencing and distance learning technology are doing. And your involvement could vastly increase the reach of on-line education.

At US West, we believe the Networked Computer is a viable way of avoiding the very real possibility that our technologies will increase the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Some 45 years ago, Alvin Toffler predicted the Knowledge Age’s arrival in his book The Third Wave.

That prediction came with a warning. Toffler wrote, and I quote:

"Elites, no matter how enlightened, cannot by themselves make a new culture. The energies of whole peoples will be required."

We in this room constitute a technological elite.

Yet to achieve our goals we must inspire a broad-based learning culture. We must foster a learning culture in America that incorporates everyone, at every level, and at every age and circumstance.

So what I’m saying in all of this is that broad bandwidth isn’t the most important issue – a broader vision of the opportunities is.

By taking a holistic approach to education, establishing naturally synergistic joint efforts with allies in government and industry…

…. We can build a learning culture here and now.

...we have the talent to create innovative applications now...

… we have the need to drive that talent…

...now all we need is a board commitment to achieve the dream of universal, life-long learning.

Walt Disney always said “A dream is a wish your heart makes.”

We have everything it takes to make this wish a dream come true.

Thank you.

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