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WorldGate Debuts WISH TV To Address Digital Divide

Washington-For less than $10 per month, an Internet-service provider is about to open a door to the Web for thousands of children through their cable-television service.

Attempting to bridge the digital divide, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), Federal Communications Commission chairman William Kennard and WorldGate Communications Inc. chairman and CEO Hal Krisbergh announced "WISH TV-WorldGate Internet School to Home" last Tuesday.

WISH TV allows users to access the Internet through cable lines. Students will need only a television and a cable set-top box. WorldGate will provide wireless keyboards and programming.

It requires "very low costs because it uses the existing cable infrastructure," according to Krisbergh. For the next year, WorldGate, a Pennsylvania-based Internet-over-TV provider, will offer the program to fourth-graders free-of-charge.

Teachers and administrators from Belle Rose Primary in Belle Rose, La., a school participating in the program, attended the Tuesday press conference. "Many of these students don't have phones," school-board member Sally Blanchard said. In poor and rural areas, many students do not have access to the Internet. Supporters hope WISH TV will bring digital information to new areas.

"This will make [the Web] available to kids who never had it before," said Tauzin, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection.

He hailed television as "that familiar territory that children-even those in incredibly deprived [situations]-have access to." According to Krisbergh, cable runs through 97 percent of American homes.

Educational advisors from Louisiana State University and Nicholls State University have developed educational content for the two Louisiana schools. WorldGate will adapt the program for others.

"We are linking lessons and the Internet to [state educational] standards," said Janice Hinson, a task-force leader from LSU.

WISH TV directs users to school announcements, educational sites, e-mail and the Web. Teachers will assign Internet-based homework to students. "It's always easier to get them involved and on task when technology is involved," Blanchard said.

Set-top vendors Motorola Broadband Communications Sector and Scientific-Atlanta Inc. pledged to provide free equipment. S-A and Motorola Broadband will donate keyboards and set-top boxes in specific markets.

Motorola Broadband will contribute 1,500 low-cost "SURFview" boxes for the first phase of WISH TV. S-A will provide free equipment to students at four Newtown, Conn., elementary schools served by Charter Communications Inc.

Children who sampled WISH TV last Tuesday were enthusiastic. John Bachman, a fourth-grader from Spotsylvania County, Va., used the system to search the Web and learn about chemistry for more than three hours. Asked if he preferred television or the computer, he smiled and said, "Playing television is better."

Teachers and developers said they will encourage parents to use WISH TV. Like students, parents will have e-mail accounts through the system.

"This opens the lines of communication between parents and teachers," said Theresa Durso, a WISH TV coordinator. Teachers will be able to send notes without relying on mail, phone calls or absent-minded students.

Fourth-graders at 11 schools in Louisiana, Illinois, Connecticut and Ohio will participate in the program this fall, and WorldGate hopes 100 schools will participate by the fall of 2001.

Krisbergh noted that he had received inquiries and requests for the service from Mexico, Singapore, India and China.

States News Service