Put the world at the fingertips of every student, and liberate teachers and students from the bounds of classroom walls. That's what Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson believes technology can do. And that's why, back in February, he unveiled a proposed $500 million investment in upgrading the state's schools.

"TEACH Wisconsin" is the latest step in Wisconsin's effort to keep their schools' quality of education at the forefront. The Technology for Educational ACHievement (TEACH) initiative is a project of Gov. Thompson's administration. Its purpose is to accelerate the use of technology in schools by increasing network connectivity and equalizing connection costs.

Gov. Thompson believes training Wisconsin's young people to use today's technology effectively will prepare them for the competitive job environment of the 21st century. One of TEACH Wisconsin's primary goals is connecting schools to each other and the Internet. The initiative aims to have direct Internet access in every public library and K-12 school by the year 2000. Another goal would give every state resident dial-up Internet access toll-free by the turn of the century.

WIRING SCHOOLS

A survey taken in September 1996 revealed more than 80 percent of Wisconsin's high schools already have limited, single computer dial-up Internet access. But nearly 13 percent of them pay long-distance toll charges for the connection. Less than 25 percent of all high schools use established circuits for direct Internet access, and less than half of these schools have that connectivity available throughout their classrooms.

TEACH Wisconsin seeks to equalize the cost of telecommunications services between users. This will give schools across the state a minimum of T1 line speed for no more than $250 per month. The line will provide direct Internet access and an option for a two-way video link.

Wisconsin schools must modernize their internal connection capabilities before they can increase their technology curriculum. TEACH Wisconsin will loan $50 million annually to K-12 schools for upgrading electrical and networking facilities. Block grants totaling $25 million for the 1997-98 school year will be made for investments in educational technology. This amount increases to $40 million for the 1998-99 school year.

THE FOUNDATION: BADGERNET

BadgerNet is the statewide telecommunications infrastructure that connects state government agencies and provides the foundation for TEACH Wisconsin. BadgerNet's mission is to reengineer, manage, and integrate the next generation of networks that comprise Wisconsin's statewide network.

Since its inception, the network has evolved and consolidated under the Department of Administration (DOA). The telecommunications bureau is a program revenue operation that performs as a networking business inside state government.

DOA puts together contracts, provides communication services to their customers and keeps a sharp eye on the costs of doing business. "We have to sell to our customers at a reasonable price to stay in business," said Jody McCann, director of the Bureau of Telecommunications Management.

When the network was first created in 1968, it provided voice-only services for state agencies. During the early years, it consisted of point-to-point (PTP) dedicated circuits carrying voice traffic, and later, Systems Network Architecture data. By 1987, all data traffic was consolidated on the WAN. "We steadily consolidated the network and brought more users into it," said McCann. "If you can aggregate traffic, your unit costs are going to come down."

In 1994, the decision was made to replace the private PTP circuits with a publicly available communication service provided by AmeriTech. Frame relay packet technology was introduced to the WAN, accompanied by the growing pains inherent in a technology transition. Although frame relay had been available for three years, it had not yet begun its explosive surge in popularity. "We were early on that curve," said McCann.

Migrating from PTP to frame relay created transport problems. The original private network was a star configuration emanating from Madison to destinations throughout the state. Because frame relay is public, AmeriTech wasn't permitted to transport