WorldGate Goes to Washington To Give Kids I-TV

Standing in the Rayburn Building in Washington, flanked by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and a bipartisan representation from the House of Representatives, Hal Krisbergh, chairman and CEO of WorldGate Communications Inc., announced a new program Tuesday that will give fourth-grade students in Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana and Ohio a free year of interactive television service at home and at school.

Dubbed WorldGate Internet School to Home, the program is expected to reach 100 schools by the fall of 2001. Initially, the homes of children in 11 grade schools nationwide, located in the partnered cable operators' area, will be given a set-top box, a wireless keyboard and, if necessary, the cable hookup needed to receive WorldGate's service.

WorldGate, Trevose, PA, offers an I-TV service that is based primarily on receiving Internet content during programming and ads, as well as basic PC capabilities such as e-mail.

WISH TV will be initiated in cooperation with cable operators Charter Communications, St. Louis; Buckeye CableSystem, Toledo, OH; and Massillon Cable TV Inc., Massillon, OH; and digital set-top manufacturers Scientific-Atlanta Inc., Norcross, GA, and Motorola, Schaumburg, IL. The program is supported by William Kennard, chairman of the FCC, and Reps. Billy Tauzin, R-LA, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection, and Ed Markey, D-MA, ranking minority leader of the subcommittee.

“It's one of those unique times when you have a nice marriage of what is attractive and fulfills a social need and at the same time makes very solid financial sense to all the companies involved,” Krisbergh said Tuesday at the press conference in Washington.

“We have a compelling solution to the digital divide. Where most companies focus on giving more — like higher speed or more services to those who already have access — WorldGate has been focused on bringing the Internet to more people. It is something that answers the need that the government has set as a national priority in terms of the digital divide,” he said.

The WISH TV service will be specifically suited for use as an “electronic textbook.” Krisbergh said WorldGate worked with Louisiana State University to develop an education platform and a specially designed home page that gives students, teachers and parents a new way to communicate.

Through the home page, teachers can develop special Internet assignments and be able to communicate directly with parents, making available test scores, class work and homework assignments.

“We have an arrangement where not only can the kids in school connect to the Internet, but they can at home, too,” said Steve Schumm, executive vice president of Charter Communications. “The screens that they will access will allow them to directly interface through separate home pages into the school. So now they can connect and download homework assignments or even check the lunch schedule.

“In a sense we have created a private network between the home and the school as well as providing the connectivity directly to the Internet, so these children can participate in the information explosion we are all participating in.”

Krisbergh and Schumm both said that the school systems were chosen because the company and its partners were planning to roll out the WorldGate service in those areas, and the program doubles as a test.

“It's the beginning of connecting all of our customers to the Internet,” Schumm said.

Krisbergh admits there is a marketing angle to the program but insists it is secondary to giving students access to the Internet.

“There is no marketing to the students. We have kept that wall very thick and separate,” Krisbergh said. “But to be fair, for the cable operator this is something that is totally in sync with a very aggressive marketing program to broaden access to the Internet in the community.

“However, it's only through its secondary impact that they will get this good PR for being involved with the program. It doesn't happen through marketing directly to the fourth-graders. In fact, there is no marketing at all to the kids,” Krisbergh said.

“At the end of the year they return the set-top box as they would a textbook, but the feeling is maybe at the end of the year, everybody doesn't want to return the box,” he said. “Many people may want to stay with WorldGate because it makes sense, and even if they do, the service is still under $10.”

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