Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) was a technology that came on strong in the early ‘90s before Ethernet took over the world. It offered high speed data transfer and was good for WAN services such as frame relay, as well as audio/video applications. Rock Hill Telephone in conjunction with Rock Hill School District, Winthrop University and (then) InfoAvenue set up a network with ATM devices at Rock Hill, Northwestern and Chester High Schools, Winthrop University and several sites in Columbia administered by InfoAve. This was bleeding edge technology at the time and the state of SC was rightfully excited at the distance learning opportunities this would allow. Up to 4 sites could take part in a real-time, 2-way audio/video exchange with the idea of offering high school AP students classes taught by a professor from Winthrop to classrooms at their respective locations. Each site had an audio/video card with connections for A/V that connected back to corresponding cards in the Rock Hill CO that were then hard-wired out to a splitter that displayed the sites in a quad format on the A/V monitors. This provided control of the conference to whichever site was setup as Conference admin. Zoom long before Zoom was even considered.
I’m not sure of the date of this, but it would have been sometime between 1995-1999. A demonstration was scheduled for then Governor David Beasley between the two Rock Hill high schools, Winthrop and a remote location in Columbia that InfoAve had setup up exclusively for this demo. The ATM was wheeled into place the day before, connectivity via a temporary DS3 was established and the device itself was brought online. The demo was scheduled for 11;30am with audio/video testing to commence at 800am on demo morning to verify complete functionality.
Naturally, as 830 rolls around and the video conference is setup, everything looks good but alas, no audio from the Winthrop site which was to be control. Frantic connection changes ensued, with good results from Winthrop to either of the high schools, but nothing to Columbia. Heads were scratched, the DS3 was thoroughly tested and retested, nothing seemed to be able to bring this connection up. Finally, sitting at the desk in front of the PC that was control over setting up and tearing down these connections, I took a moment to put my elbows on the desk, clasp my hands together and say “Lord, I don’t know what’s wrong with this connection, please guide me to get this up and working.” Then a deep breath.
I got up, went to the equipment bay and re-checked the cables going to the splitter like I had done a couple times before, went back to the desk and rebuilt the connection. You know how this ends, of course it worked this time. This time being about 10am. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief, as I just did when recalling that morning. The demo went off without another hitch. Governor Beasley was duly impressed, and the distance learning setup continued for several years between Winthrop and the three high schools in the RHTC and Chester Telco serving areas.