Comcast widens its web to give schools Internet Cable company provides links in Baltimore County

November 21, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Moving toward its goal of providing free high-speed Internet ++ access for education throughout its service areas, Comcast Cable announced yesterday that it has hooked up almost every public and private school and library in Baltimore County to its cable-modem service.

Moments after connecting Woodbridge Elementary School in Woodlawn to the Internet, Comcast officials announced that they plan to provide similar free service -- worth $200 to $1,000 a month at each location -- to every school and library in Howard County by spring, with Harford County to follow by early 2000.

Baltimore County would be the first county in the mid-Atlantic area to wire all of its schools with high-speed Internet access and also the largest school district in the country to be totally wired by Comcast with cable modems, the company said.

The company's planned purchase of Jones Communications in Annapolis and Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles and Prince George's counties means free high-speed Internet service for education in those areas within a few years, said Jaye Gamble, area vice president for Comcast's Baltimore metropolitan systems.

Baltimore County educators and elected officials -- along with U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Commissioner Gloria Tristani of the Federal Communications Commission -- praised the company for its efforts to help education.

"This is a tremendous step forward," Sarbanes said. "If the next generation isn't computer-literate, it isn't going to be able to function in the job market."

Comcast, with regional headquarters in White Marsh, sells cable service to more than 300,000 customers in Howard, Harford and Baltimore counties. It offers Internet service through Comcast @Home, using the company's cable lines to carry World Wide Web traffic faster than typical telephone connections.

With Tristani turning the key during a ceremony to bring the cable Internet access to Woodbridge, more than 140 of Baltimore County's 160 public schools have the free high-speed connections at five computers each. The county's 15 public library branches also have been connected for free.

The connections at the remaining schools have been delayed because the schools have not purchased the appropriate computers or because asbestos concerns have prevented Comcast from installing the wiring, Gamble said.

Those schools will be connected as soon as possible, and most of Baltimore County's private schools also are scheduled to be hooked up to the service within a few weeks.

"The Internet changes the way all of us learn, the way teachers teach, the way parents and students access information," said Woodbridge Principal Peggy Etzel.

Within the first few minutes of Woodbridge's connection, a handful of fifth-graders jumped on to the World Wide Web. Some learned about the solar system while others did a "virtual" frog dissection with Tristani.

"This is great," said Kendal Webb, 10. "It's so fast you can do graphics on this that we couldn't do before on the Internet."

Tristani said it's important for schools to have the latest computer capabilities to ensure that all children -- not just those from wealthy families -- have the opportunity to learn to use technology.

"We can't expect everyone will have [personal computers] at home," Tristani said. "We have to make sure that children have access and we need the help and commitment of cable operators and other companies."

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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