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Agreement Reached for Satellite Services

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WASHINGTON--A nonprofit telecommunications corporation has reached an agreement with a private firm that will allow it to begin beaming satellite-delivered educational programs to schools by early August.

The EDSAT Corporation, a subsidiary of the Washington-based National Education Telecommunications Organization, announced late last week at a press conference here that it has chosen G.E. American Communications Inc. to provide "satellite services'' for education.

Although EDSAT officials declined publicly to discuss the soon-to-be-concluded negotiations with the company, they said privately that they were on the verge of signing an agreement specifying the number of transponders, or transmitters, and the satellite on which they will be located that will be available to N.E.T.O.

Meanwhile, Jack Foster, an EDSAT board member, announced that other partners have joined the public-private venture. They include a division of the International Business Machines Corporation, which is donating a C-band "uplink'' located in Virginia to the venture, and the American Community Services Network Foundation--a co-founder of the Learning Channel--which is providing some financing.

Observers lauded the announcements as the necessary first steps in building a national education telecommunications highway for instruction, teleconferencing, and staff development.

Glenn Kessler, who manages one of the nation's most sophisticated technology-based instructional delivery systems for the Fairfax County, Va., schools, compared the announcement to the vital standardization of railroad track gauge that made possible the development of the transcontinental railroad system.

"This technology will never become effective for educational use until it is part of the mainstream [classroom] experience,'' noted Mr. Kessler, who serves on the N.E.T.O. board of directors.

Demand May Increase

The impetus behind the EDSAT proposal came during an exchange between then-Gov. Wallace Wilkinson of Kentucky and President Bush at the 1989 national education summit in Charlottesville, Va.

At that meeting, Mr. Wilkinson outlined a plan under which the federal government would launch a satellite dedicated to educational uses..

But, following an intensive study and a series of nationwide public hearings held last summer, EDSAT officials decided to proceed with an interim measure designed to satisfy existing demand.

Mr. Foster, who served as Mr. Wilkinson's education secretary, said that EDSAT hopes to capitalize on an approach, used by the nation's cable-television companies, under which educational customers will be able to receive all of their programming from a single satellite orbiting 23,000 miles above the Equator.

"It will make it much easier for school districts that don't have technicians to receive programming,'' noted Mabel Phifer, of the Black College Satellite Network, which will be one of the first N.E.T.O. customers.

"Co-location,'' as the process is known, also will allow programmers to aggregate their purchases of satellite time and ensure them access to transponders.

Once programmers begin to "migrate'' toward the N.E.T.O. transponders, then construction of a dedicated satellite might begin.

Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, who attended last week's press conference, has sponsored legislation that would permit federal loan guarantees to back the estimated $300-million project.

Shelly Weinstein, EDSAT's president, said that N.E.T.O. projects that three years from now, by which time the new satellite could be ready, there will be sufficient demand to justify the purchase of as many as 10 Ku-band and 10 C-band transponders.

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