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Rival Firm Buys TI-IN Distance-Learning Network

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A rival concern has bought the nation's largest privately owned provider of distance-learning services by satellite and is proposing to upgrade its delivery system and expand into such areas as foreign-language instruction in the elementary grades.

Westcott Communications Inc., a Carrollton, Tex.-based provider of satellite-based instructional programming in such fields as law enforcement and accounting to 18,000 subscribers, acquired the San Antonio-based TI-IN Network Inc. this month.

Although the move represents Westcott's first venture into the K-12 market, Roger J. Benavides, TI-IN's president, said his firm's experience in the field will insure continuity for its customers.

"We know the things that they don't know about K-12 education,'' he said.

Technology Change Planned

TI-IN, a distance-learning pioneer that began broadcasting in 1985, provides interactive high school courses in such subjects as Japanese, calculus, and physics to 940 schools and 6,400 students in 42 states.

According to Westcott, however, TI-IN lost $697,000 on revenues of $7.3 million in fiscal 1992.

Mr. Benavides declined to discuss TI-IN's finances, but conceded that a major implication of the sale for TI-IN's customers will be improved financial stability for the company.

Rupal Metha, a Westcott spokeswoman, said the company plans few changes for the rest of the school year.

But she added that Wescott's ability to spread costs over a wider customer base will enable it to make several major revisions for the 1993-94 school year.

Those changes will include expansion into programming for the lower grades and a systemwide conversion of TI-IN's broadcasting infrastructure to compressed digital video.

The new technology, which will require replacement of existing equipment, will permit the companies to send more information out over the same number of satellite transponders, thereby reducing overhead costs by an estimated $1 million a year.

Currently, potential customers first must buy a satellite dish from TI-IN. But under the new arrangement, a dish will be provided as part of the subscription cost.

Mr. Benavides said that, while customers who already own dishes may keep them, subscribers will have to buy at least $3,000- to $4,000-worth of programming annually in order to receive a new dish from Westcott. But most subscribers will meet that requirement, he added.

Wescott also may drop a distribution agreement between TI-IN and a company that operates another distance-learning concern, Mind Extension University, Ms. Mehta said.

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