Fiber optics link Winona businesses and schools

Minnesota State Roundup

Published July 1, 1995  | July 1995 issue

The quiet river town of Winona confirms that communication technology isn't just for big cities.

Luminet, a new fiber optic computer network in Winona, currently links six schools, a hospital and city hall to local information services and the rest of the world via the Internet (http://www.luminet.net). Now the plan is to link businesses and homes to Luminet, says Judy Bodway, director of economic development for the city of Winona.

This summer Luminet will begin hooking up businesses, giving them the "ability to exchange information accurately and quickly," Bodway says. Fastenal, a company that sells fasteners nationwide, plans to use Luminet for training sessions at seven locations throughout the country, says Fastenal president Bob Kierlin.

People computing from home can receive 20 hours of full Internet access per month for $25. A successful pilot program that began this spring linked 85 homes to Luminet, says Clay Templeton, operations manager at Luminet. Users can navigate the Internet on the World Wide Web with easy- to-use graphics.

Local "Web" sites include WinonaNet, which provides daily headlines, weather reports and an e-mail "letter to the editor" forum. Another site is the Luminet Marketplace where businesses can sell goods and services on- line. "It's like a mall where you can list all the companies that sell goods or search for a particular product," Templeton says.

Most of Luminet's current users are educational facilities. This makes sense since Luminet "grew out of a desire to improve education in Winona," Kierlin says. The Hiawatha Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to education, contributed $600,000 to start Luminet in December 1993. Video conferences and the Internet mean students can easily communicate with experts in Winona and around the world.

Winona's Internet visibility is an opportunity to sell itself as a community, officials say. That may mean extra business for local stores, and it may spur interest in Winona, with its emphasis on communications technology. Linked to the superhighway, residents can work from their living rooms. "People want to say, 'I can actually be where I want to live and do the type of work I want to do,'" Bodway says.

The local system also "allows us in economic development to keep in better contact with our local businesses," Bodway says. Information on demographics, building codes and zoning also can be accessed through the system.

One hurdle to Luminet is providing sufficient education for users. Several courses on how to use the system have sprung up around town. "Everyone is getting a quick baptism in technology," Kierlin says.

Rob Grunewald