education community is very concerned about getting a flat rate," said Mike Powell, group director for the education and libraries division of Education First. "They need to know what they will have to pay each month and not have to worry about regulating their usage."

Pacific Bell has also requested permission from the CPUC to extend the Education First offer to approximately 1,200 private, non-profit K-12 schools in its service territory.

Getting Schools Started

In January, Pacific Bell sent out Education First applications to approximately 8,600 K-12 schools, public libraries and community colleges. By mid-April, over 500 schools had returned applications. "We have about 60 or 70 customers that have already been connected," said Powell, "and we have another 400 to 500 applications that we are working on now."

The Education First project will run through the end of 1997, and schools and libraries interested in connecting can do so simply by filling out the Education First application. However, Pacific Bell does request that the school or library have the equipment to take advantage of the digital service. "We don't want to activate a line and have it sit there for three months with nothing attached to it," said Powell.

The most important thing a school needs to do, according to Powell, is to decide how they want to use the service. "Do they need data? Do they want to have video conferencing abilities? Do they want both those things? Once that is decided, then they need to make sure they have the equipment to connect to the line. Once they've done that, we work out a schedule with them to go in and do the wiring and activate the line."

Schools Decide

Education First was designed to help those schools which, without help, may have to wait three, five or 10 years to get connected to the information highway. But once the schools are connected, they then have the opportunity to use the service any way they choose. For example, Bryant Elementary School in San Francisco is using the service to connect with experts to enhance study projects. They currently have linked with the Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of a unit on oceans.

Century High School, in Santa Ana, Calif., is using the service to hook students up to a United Nations server to research issues via transcripts of debates and general sessions. West Valley Community College, in Saratoga, Calif., is providing distance learning classes for high school students and business people. For example, an environmental technology program is available for business people and online calculus classes can be taken by advanced high school students.

Workshops and Open Houses

As a way to educate schools thinking about joining the Education First project, Pacific Bell is organizing workshops and open houses all over the state. These events will give school officials, students, parents and entire communities the opportunity to see the technology in action and to get as much information as they can so they can do appropriate planning at their own schools. The demonstration schools are also open to visits from other schools.

"We are offering a valuable opportunity for California schools," said Powell. "But in order for them to take the best advantage of it, they need to figure out what they want for their school and see how other schools are doing similar projects."