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Cable-TV Company To Donate Satellite Receivers to Rural Schools

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Washington

One of the nation's largest cable-television companies pledged last week to donate satellite technology to 10,000 rural schools nationwide that will allow them to receive a wide variety of cable programs and other services.

Officials of Denver-based Tele-Communications Inc. announced the program, called primestar Goes to School, at a news conference here.

TCI, through its primestar subsidiary, offers consumers a relatively new technology called direct-broadcast satellite that allows them to receive cable programming through small receiving dishes.

The new program will equip schools that are not close to cable-television lines with a receiving dish, a device for decoding the scrambled television signals, and installation services. TCI officials estimate the combined value at $2,000 per school. The company also said that it would guarantee "worry free" maintenance.

Primestar will carry programming already available on conventional systems through Cable in the Classroom, an initiative by the cable industry that includes educational programming by the Cable News Network, the Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon, and others.

Keith B. Geiger, the president of the National Education Association and a participant at the news conference, hailed the announcement. "The fact that TCI approached the NEA early on, seeking the advice of classroom teachers, is evidence of their commitment to education," he said.

Timing Questioned

The primestar Goes to School program followed an announcement by AT&T Corp. earlier this month that it would offer free connections to the Internet computer network to 100,000 schools nationwide. (See Education Week, Nov. 8, 1995.)

Both announcements came as House and Senate lawmakers were working on compromise legislation to deregulate the telecommunications industry.

Unlike the House measure, the Senate bill would require telecommunications companies to provide schools with "affordable" access to advanced digital networks.

Some observers said the industry initiatives may have the secondary purpose of attempting to persuade lawmakers that such requirements are superfluous. Spokesmen for both companies said there was no link between their new programs and events in Congress.

Cheryl Williams, the head of technology programs for the National School Boards Association, noted that President Clinton would likely veto the legislation for reasons unrelated to the education provisions.

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