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Editorial - Traveling by video

January 20, 1998

Within three years, having one's day in court in West Virginia may be as easy as picking up the telephone. It's part of West Virginia 2001, a joint project developed by Bell Atlantic and the state government to link various agencies in a high speed communications network. And even better, the first application of the system promises an immediate savings of tax dollars.

Beginning in April, prisoners in Cabell and Kanawha counties will be able to make court appearances by video link for non-trial events such as pleas, depositions and pre-trial hearings. Even though installing the system will cost $300,000, it's expected to save money by sparing the state the cost of transporting inmates back and forth to county courthouses. With fewer inmates leaving institutions, the new system is expected to enhance public safety as well.

The heart of the system is a new method to take voice, video and data and digitalize it, so that all three can be carried on on a single phone line. And while Bell Atlantic is investing $20 million statewide to help state agencies communicate more efficiently, there are commercial possibilities as well.

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Consider the fact that Marshall University will use the system to teach interactive classes for law-enforcement and correctional officers across the state. It's not a big leap from that sort of use to video meetings between officials of a far-flung company that wants to save on travel costs. The traveling salesman of the future may travel as much by phone as by any other method of transportation.

Until this technology is established, however, small companies will hesitate to make the investment in the equipment needed to do this sort of long-distance business. Our suggestion is that when these electronic links aren't being used for preliminary hearings and the like that they be rented to businesses that want to hold conferences with potential customers, cutting the state's costs and promoting new technology at the same time.

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