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Schools and colleges in Maryland will soon have the opportunity to join a statewide fiber-optic telephone network that will allow them to transmit voice, video, and data, officials have announced.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and officials of the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company late last month announced a three-year venture to develop a statewide educational-telecommunications network that schools can use for distance learning and other long-distance educational ventures.

The telephone company expects to spend $30 million to develop the first phase of the network and anticipates that schools will pay monthly fees to connect to the system.

Although exact costs and the numbers of schools to be linked initially to the network have not been determined, between 200 and 270 sites are under consideration.

The Maryland venture is one of the most ambitious efforts to date to link schools using fiber-optic telephone cables, although many localities, and some states, are working on similar projects.

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