Kudos to Cable's Educational Fare

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WASHINGTON-Cable recently won praise from lawmakers for its efforts to bring educational tools to the classroom and Internet access to low-income communities.

During a March 8 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet, two cable-related executives described public-private partnerships that help educate children around the country.

"[Our witnesses] have committed so much to improving kids' lives through technology in education," said subcommittee chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

Discovery Communications Inc. CEO Judith A. McHale detailed the success of cable's educational program, known as Cable in the Classroom. McHale serves as its chair.

Forty cable networks and 8,500 local cable companies have given more than $1 billion over the last decade to fund Cable in the Classroom, McHale said. MSOs provide free service to schools and cable networks provide specially tailored commercial-free educational programming.

McHale also noted other ways in which cable can improve education in schools and communities. She said the industry could furnish access to broadband technologies in low-income areas, provide educational content, ensure the privacy and safety of students online and help train teachers to use new technologies.

Cable in the Classroom has begun programs to provide high-speed Internet access to schools and to provide online technology training to teachers, McHale said.

WorldGate Communications Inc. chairman Hal Krisbergh testified about his company's initiative to provide affordable Internet access to low-income communities and schools. WISH TV provides Internet access over the television set by employing a set-top box and a wireless keyboard. No computer is necessary, Krisbergh said, because data is processed at the source, rather than the end of the signal.

WISH TV has launched free year-long demonstration programs in Illinois, Louisiana and Ohio. WorldGate's partners in the initiative include set-top manufacturers Motorola Inc. and Scientific-Atlanta Inc., and cable operators Charter Communications Inc., Masillon Cable and Buckeye CableSystem.

Krisbergh said WISH TV could provide Internet access at a cost of under $2 a month.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) praised WISH TV's program in his home state.

"WISH TV provides disadvantaged communities with an opportunity to embrace the Internet that they otherwise would not have," he said.

Other witnesses testified that the FCC's E-rate program has made it possible for unprecedented gains in school connectivity since it was implemented 1996.

The E-rate program, formally known as the Universal Service Fund for Schools and Libraries, provides discounts on telecommunications and technology-services discounts to all public and private schools and libraries. Schools in low-income areas qualify for the greatest discounts.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the subcommittee's ranking member, called the E-rate "one of the great success stories of the 1990s."

States News Service

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