Executive Reports Doubling of Cable TV in Schools

By Peter West — November 20, 1991 3 min read

WASHINGTON--The number of public secondary schools equipped to receive cable-television programs has more than doubled in the last two years, due to a large-scale initiative by the cable industry, an organizer of the project said here last week.

Since 1989, more than 6,000 schools nationwide have been newly connected by local cable operators, said Amos B. Hostetter Jr., the chairman of Cable in the Classroom, a nonprofit group that is spearheading the cable industry’s drive to make its programs more widely: available to schools. Mr. Hostetter added that a survey of cable operators indicates that his organization is well on its way to achieving its stated goal of wiring each of the 13,939 secondary schools “passed by cable” by December of next year. The group considers a school “passed” if a local cable company’s main transmission lines are within a short distance of the building.

According to the survey, 12,400 of those schools have been wired for cable service, compared with the 6,165 schools that had cable when the venture was launched.

“This is where we are after roughly 18 months. But this is an early report card,” Mr. Hostetter said at a press conference here. “It’s far from a final exam.”

Cable in the Classroom is an umbrella organization composed of 20 cable networks and 1,600 local cable companies. In addition to providing schools with hardware to receive cable programs, the group’s members follow a liberal copyright policy that allows students and teachers wide latitude in videotaping programs for educational use.

A Host of Competitors

Of the more than 20 million secondary-school students in the United States, 9.9 million, or 48 percent, attend schools currently served by local operators affiliated with Cable in the Classroom, Mr. Hostetter said, citing the results of the new survey.

While not all schools are located within a reasonable radius of an existing cable system, he added, some operators are offering to provide equipment that allows schools with satellite dishes to unscramble cable’s coded television signals.

And a California-based cable operator, Tele-Communications Inc., has offered to help schools pay for satellite dishes if they need them, according to Mr. Hostetter.

As a result of these initiatives, he suggested, cable programming has become one of the country’s more ubiquitous educational resources.

“Others may talk about it, but, today, we’re able to say we’re doing it,” Mr. Hostetter added, in an apparent allusion to the increasing competition the cable industry faces in providing programming to schools.

One of the industry’s most serious potential competitors is the nation’s regional telephone companies, which hope to win Congressional approval to begin offering programming over their lines.

Legislation is pending that would reward the phone companies with the right to carry programming in exchange for a promise to build a national, fiber-optic-based telecommunications network by early in the next century.

As envisioned by the measure’s chief sponsor, Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, a major purpose of such a network would be to serve the distance-learning and other educational needs of schools.

Similarly, at least two ventures are under way to increase educational access to satellite programming, including one by the Public Broadcasting Service that would place small satellite dishes, capable of receiving voice, video, and computer data, in the majority of schools nationwide.

New Directions

Meanwhile, as Cable in the Classroom approaches its initial target of wiring every secondary school, it is considering ways to widen the scope of the endeavor, said Bobbi L. Kamil, the organization’s executive director.

Members of the alliance, she said, recently agreed to set a goal of wiring all state-accredited private and parochial schools passed by cable by September 1994.

The organization is also considering plans to wire all elementary schools, she said, because “lots of the programming is being used by [them] already.” While Ms. Kamil offered anecdotal evidence that teachers at all levels are using cable programs in some way, she conceded that there are no data available to show to what extent teachers use the programs as an integral part of instruction. She said her organization must begin to examine such questions as part of its wider goals.

“We have put out on a platter more than 500 hours of programming a month,” Ms. Kamil said. “Now, we’ve got to encourage teachers to use it well.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 20, 1991 edition of Education Week as Executive Reports Doubling of Cable TV in Schools