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Commerce Is Urging Schools To Vie for Broadcast Grants

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By Peter West

WASHINGTON--Educators should apply for grants under a program designed to fund the planning and construction of new broadcasting facilities, the head of the telecommunications division of the Commerce Department said last week.

For the first time, the Commerce Department as a matter of policy is encouraging educational entities to tap into the $20 million available under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's public-telecommunications-facilities program, according to Janice Obuchowski of the N.T.I.A.

"What we're really trying to do is indicate that we're open for business in [the field of] educational telecommunications," Ms. Obuchowski said at a press briefing here last week.

The press briefing also was a forum for officials to signal that they plan to discuss with Education Department officials ways to promote greater cooperation in the burgeoning field of educational telecommunications.

Ms. Obuchowski said she hopes to meet soon with Diane S. Ravitch, the assistant secretary of education for educational research and improvement, to see if incentives can be devised to encourage educational users of all types of telecommunications to cooperate across state and local boundaries.

"It's not clear to me why folks aren't starting to work together to break down some of these artificial barriers," Ms. Obuchowski said.

Two Satellite-Based Plans

Officials said privately that some of the concerns Ms. Obuchowski plans to target have been fueled by the development of two similar proposals to develop a satellite-based "national telecommunications highway" for education.

The two proposals in question are being developed by the Public Broadcasting Service and the EDSAT Institute, a Washington based nonprofit organization.

The 30-year-old grant program, which was originally administered by the Education Department, was relocated to Commerce in 1978. Since then, it has been used to fund the development of public television and radio stations.

Funding public radio will remain a priority this year, officials indicated.

But the program also has provided assistance to various educational partnerships and organizations, including the Missouri School Boards Association, the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications, and some recipients of federal Star Schools grants.

The EDSAT Institute itself was an unsuccessful applicant last year, officials noted.

Typically, the officials explained, the telecommunications-facilities program receives 270 grant applications and awards between 115 and 125 grants annually.

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