Video Center Screens Calls--on TV Monitor

Officials at the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks are offering residents and businesses the chance to hold meetings in cyberspace--and avoid long freeway trips.

Using a grant from Caltrans and money from the city, the Civic Arts Plaza has set up a videoconferencing center that allows people to hold meetings by television.

"It's just like you're there," said project technical consultant Lee Martin.

Cameras can be set up in a special conference room to accommodate up to 20 people, Martin said. Meetings usually involve up to eight people, and there is a desktop computer available for one-on-one conversations.

Videoconferencing began two weeks ago at the Civic Arts Plaza. A telecommunications display, including Internet demonstrations, has been up and running for a year.

Two businesses have used the new video technology so far, paying $150 per hour. Normal hourly costs can run between $200 and $250, said project business consultant Bill Simmons. This week, one individual used the video machines for about an hour to interview with a company in New York.

"You can figure out the savings when you consider how much it would cost to fly to New York for that interview," Simmons said.

Caltrans contributed more than $840,000 to the telecommunications and videoconferencing project as part of an effort to educate the public about alternatives to driving. The city of Thousand Oaks added $114,585 in funds to cover costs, said Shirley Cobb, media services manager for the city.

The project will run as long as the funding lasts, but Martin said fees could keep it going indefinitely if enough businesses and individuals participate.

"We hope to make this self-sustaining," he said.

Demonstrations are available free of charge. Project coordinators foresee families paying the $150 hourly charge to gather for reunions in cyberspace.

"I can just see someone seeing a relative's new baby over the video screen," Cobb said.

Hundreds of companies around the country possess compatible teleconferencing equipment, Martin said. Local companies that use the technology include GTE, Amgen and Wellpoint.

The telecommunications and videoconferencing display is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays on the second floor of the Civic Arts Plaza, Suite F. Reservations for video meetings are recommended. For more information, call 449-2352.

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