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Bill To Seek Congressional Backing for EDSAT

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WASHINGTON--A federal lawmaker has told members of a newly chartered educational-telecommunications body that he will ask the Congress to mitigate the financial risks of orbiting a satellite to facilitate distance learning.

"Through federal loan guarantees, we hope to insure the acquisition of a dedicated education satellite,'' Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, told the board of the EDSAT Corporation earlier this month.

Mr. Burns, who often champions the educational uses of technology, is the co-author of a pending measure that would reward the nation's regional telephone companies for connecting schools with a fiber-optic network by the year 2015.

Mr. Burns said he and Senator Wendell H. Ford, Democrat of Kentucky, plan to introduce legislation that will back the corporation if it attempts to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars it will take to buy an existing satellite or launch one of its own.

The corporation and its parent, the National Educational Telecommunications Organization, held their first meetings at the Intelsat Corporation headquarters here earlier this month.

Both were chartered late last year to advance the role that telecommunications plays in the nation's educational system. The EDSAT Corporation, under the direction of N.E.T.O., will focus primarily on the goal of making available satellite time to educational users at all levels.

Educator Interest Reported

Corporation officials credit former Gov. Wallace Wilkinson of Kentucky with first advancing the idea of orbiting such a satellite during President Bush's 1989 education summit with the nation's governors.

While other governors and educational broadcasters had floated similar ideas in the past, Mr. Wilkinson took action on his proposal. He encouraged the EDSAT Institute, a nonprofit corporation based here, to undertake a feasibility study for the plan.

The institute, which spent between $400,000 and $450,000 last year on its operations, is underwritten by Westinghouse Communications, the Westinghouse Electric Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Communications Satellite Corporation, and other entities with an interest in satellite and telecommunications policy.

EDSAT's Analysis of a Proposal for an Education Satellite, produced under the direction of Shelly Weinstein, who is now N.E.T.O.'s president, argued that a sufficient market for satellite time exists among educational users to justify such a project.

Last summer, Ms. Weinstein and Jack D. Foster, Mr. Wilkinson's former education secretary, conducted a series of regional hearings for the EDSAT Institute to gauge the level of "grassroots'' support among educators and educational broadcasters for the proposal.

Both Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Foster now serve on the N.E.T.O. and EDSAT boards.

As of N.E.T.O.'s first meeting this month, officials said, more than 85 education and state agencies had expressed an interest in affiliating with the organization.

Telecommunications experts have argued that the EDSAT plan will be obviated by the launch of new satellites and the emergence of new techniques for squeezing additional capacity into existing systems.

But EDSAT officials counter that, unlike current efforts, its plan would ensure that educators have access to satellite time and would allow "one-stop shopping'' for programs from a single satellite.

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