Anyone who can see a profitable way of connecting rural schools to the information superhighway should tell the Government by July 7.
On Monday Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, launched the Superhighways for Education consultation paper. But the only Government money she offered was for the evaluation of pilot projects. She made it clear that the private sector is expected to finance the construction of the education superhighway. To meet the Department for Education's definition of "superhighway", a network must offer near-broadcast standard two-way audio and video communication so that, for example, children could practise their French with similar-age children in a French school.
This standard of service cannot be delivered over existing telephone lines or even over the basic-rate Integrated Services Data Network offered by BT. Education superhighway would have to rely either on cable television networks, or on dedicated optical fibre connections.
The higher education funding councils' Joint Information Systems Committee has already raised the possibility of connecting schools to SuperJANET. JISC's consultation document, published at the beginning of April, stressed the role of higher education institutions as centres of expertise to business and the community.
"There are thus good reasons for wishing to see other bodies, such as schools, companies and other external organisations, connecting to JANET and SuperJANET," the document said.
Superhighways for Education is available from HMSO or on the World Wide Web, at hmsoinfo.gov.uk/hmso/publicat/ document/supered.html.