Bristol hitches up to superhighway

November 18, 1994

Three universities in the south-west of England are to play a key role in an initiative that aims to make Bristol a world-beating "digital community".

The project is being spearheaded by the South Bristol Learning Network, a government- backed firm set up to support life-long learning using the emerging information superhighway.

John O'Hara, head of SBLN, says that IT students at the universities of Bristol, West of England and the Open University will play a key role in training pupils and their teachers to use a wide range of multimedia facilities.

It is hoped that as well as schools and colleges, more than 400 local organisations including community groups, small businesses, libraries and enterprise centres will be linked up to Bristol's infoway.

The main aims of the initiative include; establishing an electronic information centre available to the public; using new technology to deliver lifelong learning for firms, individuals and educational services; to create a training platform for communications entrepreneurs to develop applications of the information superhighway.

The project is backed by ICL, British Telecom and CompuServe, the biggest online commercial service in Britain.

According to SBLN, the initiative is being closely observed by the Clinton administration in the United States and by the Canadians who see it as a potential blueprint for their own projects. Mr O'Hara says: "The Bristol model has set a benchmark by which the rest of the world will be measuring itself."

He says that the unique feature of the initiative is that it is not aimed at supporting the private sector. Similar attempts to create digital cities elsewhere in the world are failing because they do not address the all-round needs of the community. By contrast SBLN aims "to show what technology can do for them, educate them in its use and learn from them how it can best serve their needs."

John O'Hara can be contacted on: johara@sbln.demon.co.uk.

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