Sometime this summer, New York state expects to unveil a huge computer network designed to reinvent the way state and local government agencies interact.

Based on Internet technology and standards, but configured as a private intranet, the project aims to open unprecedented electronic communication among organizations that range from large state departments to small-town clerks. In all, the state's Office for Technology (OFT) expects to link together some 80 state agencies and 900 towns, cities and counties.

OFT Director Camaron Thomas predicts the new network -- known as NYT and pronounced "net" -- will have wide-ranging impact on participating organizations.

"We don't have anything right now connecting local governments to the state agencies that they deal with on an ongoing basis, even for something as simple as e-mail," said Thomas. "There's a wealth of knowledge out there, but it's disbursed in such a way that [agencies] don't have access to one another. I don't know how we've existed this long without being able to talk."

Sharon Dawes, director of the State University of New York (SUNY) Center for Technology in Government, agreed. "The basic ability to communicate readily from one desktop to another within state and local government will be a wonderful boost for us," she said.

Besides providing essential services like e-mail and Internet access, NYT will become a conduit for specialized agency applications, allowing it to replace a number of existing networks, according to OFT. With its ability to deliver data, voice and video, the state also foresees NYT providing advanced applications, such as distance learning, telemedicine and online voice services.

DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

A 20-member governance council, comprised of state and local agencies involved in NYT, meets quarterly to decide broad policy and organizational issues shaping the network. A smaller management committee meets biweekly to iron out the details.

"The reason that a coordinated network hasn't been successful is because one agency or entity assumed charge of it, and the others felt that they were on the receiving end. This time around, everyone who is affected is involved," said Thomas.

That involvement is crucial to the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, which will use NYT to replace its CRIMNET network. CRIMNET distributes criminal history information to hundreds of local law enforcement agencies and judges throughout the state.

"We sit on the management committee and governance council, so we will have input into this process to make sure that our needs are satisfied," said Leo Carroll, director of the agency's Office of Systems.

Thomas noted that agency participation in NYT is completely voluntary; therefore, the project's success rides on meeting user needs. "What we're doing is making sure it's the very best thing out there, so that agencies want to participate," she said. "And, the fact that they're involved in the building of it seems to be bringing them to the table."

LAYING THE

GROUNDWORK

The heart of NYT is a high-speed, fiber-optic cable stretching from Buffalo to New York City. The state contracted with Metropolitan Fiber Systems Network Technologies to lay eight fiber-optic strands along the state's thruway. The company also will install Fujitsu Synchronous Optical Network (SONET) electronics.

NYT Project Manager Will Pelgrin expects cabling to be finished by February, yielding a backbone that operates at OC-48 speeds and provides so much bandwidth that the state will initially use just half of the fiber-optic strands.

The next step will be choosing a vendor to handle network integration. According to an RFP issued by OFT, the vendor will perform preliminary engineering design analysis, supply and install network equipment, and integrate multiple types of equipment and services.

Among other things, the RFP specifies ATM switching equipment at all 14 network access points located throughout the state. The