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Oregon Ponders Satellite TV Plan

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Oregon has taken a step toward building an ambitious telecommunications network that would beam educational programs via satellite to schools across the state.

The state's Legislative Emergency Board in July allocated $75,000 to begin recruiting potential business and educational users of the Oregon ED-NET, a proposed communications system that would, among other functions, help remote rural school districts offset the effects of teacher shortages and geographic isolation.

According to a report by the nine-member Oregon ED-NET Committee appointed by Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, the system could become operational by the fall of 1989 if lawmakers earmark $8 million for the project during next year's legislative session.

But although the Governor supports the ED-NET concept, said Kathleen K. Carter, an aide to Mr. Goldschmidt, fiscal constraints could make it difficult for lawmakers to approve a costly new program.

But Representative Wayne H. Fawbush, chairman of the joint trade and economic-development committee and an ED-NET champion, said he was "optimistic'' about the project's chances for funding. He suggested lottery revenues as a source.

The report on the telecommunications proposal, which was reviewed by the legislative panel before its July vote, notes that ED-NET "fits into a context of comparable developments'' in other states, such as Kentucky, South Carolina, and Virginia.

In South Carolina, the state-supported Educational Television Network reaches more than 1,000 schools over broadcast and closed-circuit television. The system will celebrate its 30th anniversary next month.

The Oregon project would differ from South Carolina's $22-million effort and from most other existing systems, a consultant said, because its aim would be to become financially self-sufficient within its first three years of operation.

Raymond J. Lewis, director of the Portland, Ore., firm Learning and Technology Services, said ED-NET would charge annual membership fees of at least $1,000 and levy hourly programming fees and teleconferencing charges.

"We'll see if it works,'' the consultant said. "We've got to get down to the point where we'll see if people are willing to sign on the dotted line.''

Oregon ED-NET is designed to attract as many clients as possible, he added, including agencies of state government, colleges, libraries, nonprofit groups, hospitals, and corporations, as well as school systems.

Because the system would use a variety of technologies to disseminate video, voice, and data transmissions, it is expected to be more attractive to potential users than a simple satellite television network, according to Mr. Lewis.

"The K-12 element is only one part of the whole picture,'' he said. "If you did this only with K-12 or only with higher education, there wouldn't be enough users to make it work.''

He noted, for example, that large businesses, which could use the system for employee training or teleconferences, would pay as much as $5,000 a year in membership fees.

Strong, grassroots interest in the network became apparent last spring when the panel conducted a statewide survey of potential members, Mr. Lewis said.

Educational Demand

The study showed that school districts in Oregon's rugged, mountainous interior would use satellite dishes distributed through the network to offer advanced mathematics and sciences courses, foreign-language instruction, and other subject areas that financial constraints or a shortage of teachers prohibit them from offering now.

With the exception of a few large cities on the Pacific coast, noted Bob Burns, the assistant state school superintendent, "Oregon is a state made up of small districts enrolling fewer than 100 or 200 students.''

Paying the ED-NET membership and user fees, Mr. Burns said, would be far less expensive than than hiring someone to teach a course or paying the costs of inservice training.

Precollegiate institutions would get most of the 1,300 satellite dishes the network proposes to distribute. Plans call for providing the satellite receivers and related hardware to each of the state's 451 public middle and high schools, approximately 280 of its 700 elementary schools, and 29 regional-service districts.

Private schools and colleges could also join the network, Mr. Lewis said, if they buy their own hardware.

Though satellite-transmitted programming for the precollegiate level is already available from a variety of sources, he said, the ED-NET proposal includes plans to purchase a $250,000 mobile unit so that "potentially, any school could generate programming.''

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