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Plan To Offer Data Links to Schools Still on, Firms Say

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The collapse of a proposed multibillion-dollar merger between two of the nation's largest telecommunications concerns may slow, but will not significantly alter, their plans to provide 26,000 public schools with advanced electronic links to the "information highway,'' according to company officials.

Bell Atlantic Corporation, a Philadelphia-based regional telephone company, and Tele-Communications Inc., a Denver-based cable concern, announced in mid-January that within eight years they would offer electronic links to schools under the "Basic Education Connection'' program. (See Education Week, Jan. 19, 1994.)

But the heads of the two companies said late last month that for several reasons--among them, more stringent federal control of the fees charged by local cable-television companies--a merger would not be financially feasible.

Company officials said last week that the decision will not prevent the deployment of the school links.

Pat Wright, the director of education services for T.C.I., said the company's plans to replace existing links to schools with fiber-optic lines "could have [proceeded] faster if the merger had gone through'' because T.C.I. would have had more resources available.

But, he added, "it's not that [the] information superhighway isn't coming, it's just that it may take a little longer.''

Jay Grossman, a Bell Atlantic spokesman, noted that the company had hoped to offer several on-line services owned by T.C.I. over its system, but will develop a catalogue of alternative services.

Teacher-Training Grant

In another school-telecommunications development, the U.S. West Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Denver-based U.S. West Inc., announced last week that it will make a $1.4 million grant to the University of Northern Colorado to establish a program for training teachers to use data networks effectively in the classroom.

John Scully, the Colorado vice president for U.S. West Communications, said the grant is the foundation's single largest donation.

The teachers chosen for the program will receive lap-top computers with built-in modems that will allow them to use telephone lines to access electronic-mail systems, the Internet, and other on-line services at reduced rates.

The program is expected to train 1,800 Colorado teachers from 89 school districts by 1996.

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