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The Public Broadcasting Service has announced that it has signed its first educational client to use the vastly increased signal capacity that will become available when it launches a new satellite late next year.

The client, the South Carolina-based Satellite Educational Resources Consortium, is a distance-learning group consisting of public broadcasters and chief state school officers.

Under the contract, the organization will begin broadcasting over Telstar 401, a replacement for the existing public-broadcasting satellite, when it goes into orbit late in 1993.

The move by SERC, which provides live distance-learning programs by satellite to more than 5,000 students in 28 states, was described as strengthening a joint effort by PBS and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, which built the satellite, to "create an education neighborhood.''

The broadcasting service says that the new satellite, which is slated to carry a wide array of educational programs, will provide teachers with a "one-stop source for high-quality classroom programming.''

"We encourage others who provide similar education services to join us on Telstar 401 to give schools even greater resources to access,'' said Sandra Welch, the executive vice president for education at PBS.

Although PBS long ago announced its intention to use the increased capacity of the new satellite for precollegiate education, the new emphasis on Telstar 401 as "the nation's largest satellite-education neighborhood'' seems to be a direct effort to compete with a private venture to launch an independently owned satellite dedicated to education.

For some time, the Washington-based National Educational Telecommunications Organization has had as its primary mission the goal of providing a single orbital platform for distance-learning uses.

The EDSAT Institute, an N.E.T.O. subsidiary, has cited several justifications for its push to orbit an independently owned education satellite, but its primary argument is that the advantage of such an apporach would be "co-location,'' or the ability of educators to obtain many different programs from a single location in the sky.

Currently, practitioners often must track several satellites if they wish to tune into several different programs.

PBS and the N.E.T.O. have for some time engaged in legislative sniping on Capitol Hill over the need for an independent, dedicated satellite for educational uses.

EDSAT began limited broadcasting this school year over a leased satellite and hopes eventually to attract enough users to support the cost of launching or leasing a satellite of its own.--P.W.

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