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Other views: Northern Tier Network celebration premature

The celebration of the completion of the Northern Tier Network was premature as far as Grand Forks is concerned.

Political figures and higher education officials gathered in Fargo to celebrate the Northern Tier Network, which is a high-speed, regional computer network linked with fiber optic cable and capable of transmitting enormous amounts of data.

The network will wonderfully enhance research opportunities on North Dakota's university campus. In fact, UND's Regional Weather Information Center is already using the system.

The trouble is, the system isn't really done.

And it is vulnerable, besides.

UND was linked to the system last month. Right now, the campus is "an end node." That means the system doesn't go any farther. Data must be pushed one way, through the trunk line in Fargo.

There's no redundancy in the system, so if there's trouble -- from flooding, let's imagine -- the system could go down.

Concern for a vital communication link lent a special urgency to Fargo's flood fight this spring, just as it did to Grand Forks' own fight in 1997. That year, telephone company employees worked heroically -- and successfully -- to keep communication links working.

The stakes are higher today, of course, because the system is vastly more sophisticated -- and so much more depends on it.

So redundancy is essential.

This could be most easily provided by linking with Canada's own transcontinental system, known as Canary. Such a link exists on the West Coast. It makes sense to have another link through the Red River Valley.

This would provide a second route for information. It would allow Canadian researchers access to the U.S. system and vice versa.

The link would be a significant enhancement to the Red River Research Corridor that's developing between institutions in Manitoba and North Dakota.

Just about everybody recognizes the importance of this link, and North Dakota is eager to get it done.

The problem is that our neighbors don't have the money. Both South Dakota and Manitoba are in significantly more economic difficulty than North Dakota. This effectively means that federal money is going to be needed to accomplish this important goal.

There's a second important piece of the region's technological future that is also not yet in place. This is the building to house the North Dakota University System's computer system and the people who maintain, develop and enhance it. Those people and their machines serve the entire university system. They are in Grand Forks now, but they are spread all over the UND campus.

Gov. John Hoeven has made the building a major priority, but legislators didn't approve the money -- a little less than $12 million -- to build it.

There's some risk that the building could go to another campus -- the one in Fargo, specifically. Winning approval for the building and securing it for Grand Forks is the most important piece of unfinished business for local government leaders and local legislators.