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AT&T To Offer All Schools Free Access to Internet Services

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AT&T Corp. pledged last week to provide more than 100,000 public and private schools nationwide with easy access to the global Internet computer network.

The company said it will commit $150 million in advanced telecommunications services to schools by 2000 through a program called the AT&T Learning Network.

"AT&T will provide technology that is easy for teachers to use and effective in helping students learn," said Robert E. Allen, the company's chairman. He added that the program represents the single largest commitment AT&T has made to education.

The program does not, however, address the vexing task of providing the wiring and alterations needed in the nation's aging stock of schools to make the Internet widely available in classrooms.

The five-year program begins next spring. Through it, New York City-based AT&T will make available at no charge some of its newest services and extensive educational support to every school in the United States capable of using them.

The program includes:

  • Providing schools with free dial-up Internet service, software to navigate on the Internet, and 100 hours of free usage.
  • Free use of the company's forthcoming national voice-messaging service for three months. The service will enable educators to broadcast messages to parents and students.
  • Giving 100 schools, chosen by AT&T, free wireless service for two years, including providing educators with cellular phones.
  • A commitment by the AT&T Foundation to spend $50 million over the next five years to support the use of technology in teaching and learning. A series of grants, beginning next year, will encourage family involvement, provide professional-development opportunities for teachers, and aid in the preparation of new teachers.

'First Step'

President Clinton and Vice President Gore hailed the program as "one large first step" toward the administration's goal of connecting every classroom to the "information highway."

The announcement also came as House and Senate lawmakers were embarked on a lengthy conference to work out a compromise version of two telecommunications-deregulation bills.

Reed E. Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, used the AT&T announcement to urge passage of the Senate version of the bill. He noted that the company's program would still leave more than 1 million classrooms without Internet connections.

Educational-access provisions of the Senate telecommunications bill, he said, "will allow us to make sure that the rest of America's children will be able to avail themselves of AT&T's generosity."

Mr. Hundt said he hoped the AT&T venture would spur similar public-private partnerships.

Ruthlyn Newell, an AT&T spokeswoman, said the timing of the announcement and the developments in Congress were unrelated. "There is evidently something in the legislation that deals with programs in schools," she said, "but that was not in the top of our minds."

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