The Public Broadcasting Service has stepped into the ongoing political fracas between the nation's telephone and cable-television companies by announcing that it will use digital video-compression techniques and fiber-optic cables to allow teachers in several cities to communicate during a satellite teleconference this week.
The fiber-optic links will allow middle- and secondary-school teachers in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Indianapolis to interact "live" via two-way video and audio during the May 22 program.
The teleconference is designed to show educators how to use the PBS program "The Shape of the World"--a six-part series that traces the mapping of the earth over several centuries--in their science and social-studies classes.
Bell Communications Research, an arm of the seven Bell operating companies, or "baby Bells," is providing PBS with the equipment and technology to undertake the test. Equipment manufacturers, long-distance telephone-service providers, and the baby Bells themselves also are providing technical assistance.
"Digital video compression and fiber-optics hold the promise of greatly improving the diversity and technical quality of the programming that educators will be able to bring into their classrooms," Carl Girod, PBS's vice-president of satellite technology, said in a statement.
What the statement did not mention is that the regional telephone companies have been locked in a lengthy battle with the cable operators in the hope of cracking cable's existing monopoly on transmitting programming.
The phone companies argue that they would be able to "rewire the nation" with fiber-optic cable more economically, and far more rapidly, if they could obtain legislative and judicial waivers to allow them to produce programming that would underwrite the multi-billion-dollar cost of replacing existing copper lines. (See Education Week, Oct. 24, 1990.)
And while many of the demonstration projects undertaken by the regional phone companies have been education-related, the cable companies themselves have begun to target schools with campaigns that tout their commitment to education.
PBS, meanwhile, has announced that the International Business Machines Corporation, which is underwriting "The Shape of the World," will make copies of a videotape, containing segments from the series keyed to various curricular goals, available to schools free of charge.
Schools may order one copy of the tape, with the right to make unlimited copies, by sending $3 to cover shipping and handling to i.b.m., c/o Teled Inc., 7449 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90046.--pw