My June, 2009 Montana InBusinessMonthly column
Rob Ferris, general manager of Great Falls-based Vision Net, spent 10 minutes with me on a day his administrative assistant said he was “slammed.” Just back from a business trip, he was busy catching up and was easier to get in touch with via e-mail; a few minutes after I e-mailed, he called.
Ferris told me he has over 30 years in the industry in positions with Lucent Technologies, Blackfoot Telephone and AT&T, and three with Vision Net in Great Falls, to which he just relocated from Vision Net’s Missoula office. He said that all of Vision Net’s core businesses are doing well. “We’re not seeing a lot of (financial) difficulties with our Montana customers right now,” he said.
Vision Net is wholly owned by nine independent telephone companies, and offers data, voice and video networking applications (over ethernet, satellite, wireless and more), direct Internet access and customized wide-area network management.
For the business user, Vision Net’s interactive video conferencing is possibly the most “visual” of their services and also one of the services I think other businesses look to during the economic downturn to save money on travel. That all works, of course, with the “invisible” but very extensive fiber and satellite links that Vision Net uses for all of their customers across Montana, North Dakota, and for national customers as well.
I was mostly interested in their education focus with video conferencing, because I had read about their May 11 videoconference with NASA for schools in Montana and Colorado.
Ferris told me they have about 60 interactive sites in K-12 schools across Montana, and that allows them to “help rural schools with their needs for certified teachers via distance learning in science and language.”
And the Hubble Telescope Space Shuttle Mission video conference grew out of that: “Our video teleconferencing manager has been working with the Museum of the Rockies to put together some field trips with a paleontology focus, and we’re getting close to getting that done. But the (Bozeman) museum gave him the lead to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.”
With Vision Net’s video bridge, the Kennedy Space Center was able to conference on launch day with four Denver schools and the Denver Museum. Here in Montana, the Belt High School went to the Vision Net facility in Great Falls, the Darby School was on from Darby, and East Middle school in Butte went to Montana Tech for their connection to the conference.
Ferris noted that interactive video is nothing new to Vision Net in terms of technology; they do it every day. “We schedule interactive video conferences every day around the country and internationally several times a month,” he said.
Other aspects of video conferencing are smaller in nature and cover less ground. Four city fire stations in Missoula use interactive video between stations for training and meetings via video, to save money on overtime and in order to keep the stations staffed. (That is, of course, private video conferencing.)
Towards the end of our talk, Ferris seemed particularly happy with Vision Net’s Freedom Calls service, which is free video conferencing for families who have servicemen and women oversees. He said “it’s a pretty cool deal,” and that the service is used often.
Check www.vision.net for more information on educational video conferencing, Freedom Calls and all other services.
Vision Net is holding the Vision Net Summer Technology Road Show, which will host presentations by industry representatives on network security, voice-over IP and video conferencing. That’s in Missoula on June 9 at the Hilton Garden Inn from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. More information and registration Held at the Hilton Garden Inn Missoula.