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TCI Launches Company To Provide TV Programs, Software to Schools for Fee

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Washington

The nation's largest cable-television company has launched a new company that will provide a variety of TV programming and computer software to schools that pay to subscribe.

ETC w/TCI, a subsidiary of Tele-Communications Inc., will offer curriculum materials and professional-development courses through cable systems or, in rural areas, direct-broadcast satellite.

Elementary school students, for example, will be able to take Spanish courses created through a partnership with Northern Arizona University, as well as a course in earth and environmental sCIence that explores the Grand Canyon.

TCI has also formed partnerships with Discovery Communications Inc.'s Discovery Channel and such software companies as The Learning Co. and Compton's NewMedia Inc. to provide their products to classrooms.

New Opportunities

John C. Malone, the president and chief executive officer of Englewood, Colo.-based TCI, announced the new company at a news conference here last week.

The announcement was the first in what may be a string of similar ventures in the coming months now that Congress has passed, and President Clinton has signed, a dramatic overhaul of the nation's 62-year-old communications law. (See Education Week, Feb. 7, 1996.)

The new law frees cable, telephone, and other telecommunications companies of many of the restrictions that have long prevented them from expanding into other markets.

President Clinton's call in his State of the Union speech last month for businesses to be more aggressive in wiring classrooms to the information highway may also spur ventures like ETC w/TCI.

Although many schools are not yet "cable ready," the company will help schools determine what they'll need to wire their classrooms, and will try to show educators that money spent on technology can bring savings in other areas, said Tony Coelho, ETC's president.

Although each component of the service is priced separately, the most comprehensive version will cost districts about $265 per student per year, said Mr. Coelho, a former U.S. representative from California.

Mr. Malone, considered one of the shrewdest players in the massive telecommunications industry, said TCI views the new venture as a loss leader, meaning that, initially, it is expected to lose money.

"We are very early into turning this into a large-scale business enterprise," he said. "We don't expect this to be profitable for years to come."

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