On Tuesday, July 9, cable television companies across America launched a bold initiative to provide both television and Internet services to public schools throughout the country. Dozens of cities were selected, Nashville among them.
The announcement came as no surprise. The cable television industry has been besieged by both government regulation and industry watchdogs for years, mainly because of concerns that the companies were ignoring the communities they served. Rumors of an industry-wide “community service” project were reported far and wide in the past year, and people generally suspected that it would have something to do with the nation’s schools.
At a press conference last week, Intermedia, the Nashville cable company slated to take over Viacom’s market share here in early August, confirmed this suspicion. “Between now and 1997,” said Bill Hagerty, Intermedia’s director of Middle Tennessee operations, “we’re going to install high-speed cable modems in every school in Davidson County.”
Internet hookups in schools are nothing new. Several schools in the Metro Nashville system already have access, and more are already planning to install it. But most of these existing connections have one big problem: They’re abysmally slow. Speed is one of the things that makes the Internet useful, and when many students are sharing one slow connection, it can become almost unusable.
Cable modems, which use two channels on a cable box to transmit and receive computer data, run at much faster speeds than traditional modems. A typical setup at a school these days would be around 28,000 bits per secondthat’s about the best a normal phone line can handle. Cable modems provide a transmission speed of nearly 10 million bits per second. Of course, there’s a reason why these new modems haven’t caught on yetthey cost about $400 each.
Critics charge that the cable industry is throwing out a few freebies to stave off the almost constant attacks by special interest groups. Proponents, meanwhile, argue that cable companies should be commended for beginning to take an interest in their communities.
Intermedia will foot the bill for the project in Nashville. The company will hook up 61 schools in Metro using these special modems, free of charge. Total cost to Intermedia: around $150,000 for equipment and connection charges. Since access can only be given to schools in so-called “rebuilt” cable areas, schools that fall outside these areas will be provided with other means of connection.
Needless to say, city officials were almost giddy over the news. “Our students need Internet access if they’re going to be competitive in the job market,” said Craig Owensby, spokesman for Metro Public Schools. “This project will do that.... We’re very excited.”
For Intermedia, the project will provide a few benefits. The company has been exploring the possibility of offering cable Internet to consumers for quite a while, and hooking up schools will give it experience working with this totally new product.
The cable Internet marketplace is so small and fragmented at the moment, it’s hard for companies to know what to charge for their services. For now, Intermedia will not say when the public will be able to buy Internet service, or even what it will costjust that you’ll be able to buy it in the future if you live in an area that has been rebuilt.
As for Metro schools, most should have access to the Internet by cable modem in the first half of the school year. Sure, it may be a publicity-seeking corporate freebie, but it’s one that benefits our schools in ways we can only begin to imagine.
♦ The National Online Music Alliance (NOMA) is gearing up for a really big show this coming Wednesday, July 24. NOMA has been around for one year, which, in this fast-paced world of digital media, makes it nearly geriatric. To celebrate, the organization has planned a live “Webcast” from Bluebird Cafe. The 9:30 p.m. celebration will feature an in-the-round concert featuring Tom Kimmel, Katie Wallace, and Buddy Mondlock. Proceeds from the event will benefit the W.O. Smith Community School of Music. To find out more, visit NOMA at http://songs.com/ .
♦ I mentioned the new State of Tennessee Web site in this space last week, but I neglected to give credit where credit was due. The designers of the revamped site were none other than Nashville-based Web company EdgeNet Media. EdgeNet has been on a fast track with several high-profile Web development projects, including the Tennessee bicentennial site and now the state project. Take a look at the revamped state Web site at http://www.state.tn.us/ .
Joel Moses can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.