The County Cubicle: MAN, oh man … what a network

Editor’s note: In an effort to keep residents informed on happenings within county government, county employees will contribute biweekly articles for “The County Cubicle.”
These articles may include responses to reader questions or expression of interest. Readers are encouraged to submit questions or suggestions to County Administrator Pat Hooker at 878-9436 or phooker@co.rio-blanco.co.us

Over the last decade, the county’s Information Technology (IT) Department has been working to improve the computer and telephone network capabilities across the county and thereby increase efficiency and reduce taxpayers’ cost for these systems.
During the late ’90s, the Meeker School District applied for and received a county grant to connect six of its buildings with fiber optic cable. White River Electric Association was instrumental in achieving this by waiving fees and donating personnel and equipment to hang the cable on its poles. Blake Mobley, the technical coordinator for the Meeker School District, received training in fiber optic termination and splicing and was responsible for connecting all of the districts buildings together to create a Wide Area Network (WAN). Initially the cable was used for data traffic only but it laid the groundwork for a Municipal Area Network (MAN) that would eventually connect the Meeker School District, Pioneers Medical Center, Meeker Town Hall, four county buildings in Meeker and two county buildings in Rangely. The MAN now provides data and voice traffic to approximately 1,100 users, 500 computers, and 25 agencies at 13 physical locations in Meeker and Rangely.
The ultimate goal of the MAN was to provide high-speed internet access to different agencies from one central location, thereby reducing overall cost by eliminating the need to have separate internet feeds installed at each location. The MAN made possible the sharing of equipment and maintenance expenses by having each entity pay a percentage of the overall costs based on the number of computers on their network.
One of the greatest benefits of the MAN is the sharing of equipment and network resources. An example of the MAN’s effectiveness is when the Meeker School District purchased a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone system. The equipment was installed in the Rio Blanco County Courthouse, which enabled the county to utilize the system as well. Because the VOIP is shared, there is no need for individual county departments to have multiple phone lines. This has reduced the county’s phone bill by approximately $495,000 annually. This also improved efficiency by allowing almost all county employees to call each other and transfer calls using a four-digit extension regardless of which building or town they are located in.
What’s next? The Meeker School District, Rio Blanco County, town of Meeker and Pioneers Medical Center are now utilizing the MAN to create a central Disaster Recovery Center (DRC). This will allow for minimal down time in the event of an emergency and further reduce costs for all the agencies involved. If you have further questions about this or any other information and technology subject, you can contact the county IT Department at 878-9540.