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Use of Satellites for Distance Learning Merits Serious

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Discussion, Study Says Washington--Proposals to launch or lease a satellite to facilitate "distance learning" in schools deserve serious consideration, although questions about the financing and governance of such a project remain, according to a new study.

The report released by the EDSAT Institute, a nonprofit research organization based here, points out that educational users of satellite time represent a significant segment of the total satellite market.

Citing figures compiled by Kentucky Educational Television, the report, "Analysis of a Proposal for an Education Satellite," states that there are at least 111 providers of educational programming by satellite nationwide. The ket data also indicate that the 20 largest education customers expect to purchase more than 75,000 hours of satellite time during the 1990-91 school year.

But while the education market for satellite time could be worth as much as $50 million annually, the report argues, education customers presently are so diverse and unorganized that they lack the power to compete with commercial satellite users. "The problem," it states, "does not seem to be demand as much as the lack of coordination in purchasing satellite time so as to gain maximum economic benefit from such a large expenditure."

EDSAT estimates that the cost of building, launching, and insuring a single satellite would be about $180 million. The report adds that satellites often are built and launched in pairs to ensure against mishaps at launch or in orbit.

Nevertheless, at the present level of use, even the higher cost of orbiting a redundant system could be recouped in as few as seven years, the study estimates.

Because of the time needed to design, build, and launch a satellite, however, the EDSAT report recommends forging a contract with the owner of a satellite already in orbit while efforts are under way to build a dedicated satellite and secure from the Federal Communications Comission at least one and possibly several orbital slots.

The report also examines several possibilities for financing the satel lite, arguing that self-sufficiency should be reached as soon as possi ble and that supporters of the sys tem "should not assume it would L subsidized beyond its initial years."

The study suggests several mod els for governance of the satellite, in cluding establishment of a national, nongovernmental agency similar to the Red Cross; an interstate-comL pact organization; a multistate tele communications cooperative; or a L cooperative arrangement modeled L on Intelsat, an international mem bership-based governance board that oversees commercial satellites.

Shelly Weinstein, EDSAT's execu tive director, pointed out that the in stitute "certainly excluded some op tions" for governance.

The study found, for example, that while the Education Department could provide research about effec tive uses of satellites in distance ed ucation, it was not an appropriate agency, "either by mission or exper ience," to operate a satellite system.

The study was conducted by two working groups.

One, directed by Peter Likins of Lehigh University, focused on tech nical issues. The other, led jointly by Joseph Duffey, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Am herst, and John H. Buchanan Jr. of the lobbying group People for the American Way, studied policy and governance issues.

Ms. Weinstein said EDSAT already has held briefings on the analysis for the White House Domestic and Eco nomic Policy staff and interested L members of the Congress.

While the idea of dedicating a sat ellite to educational use has a long history, the proposal gained new im petus when Gov. Wallace G. WilkinH son of Kentucky broached the sub ject with President Bush during the 1989 national education summit.

Mr. Wilkinson announced last fall that the EDSAT Institute would per form a feasibility study on his propos al. (See Education Week, Oct. 3, 1990.)

The National Governors' Associ ation, at its annual meeting last L month, also expressed its support for cooperatve efforts between the states, the federal government, and the private sector to study satellite- based and alternative-telecommunications technologies in support of distance-learning.

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