All 16 UK cable operators have agreed to provide schools with unlimited Net access on ISDN lines for #50 per month - a fraction of the normal price.
There will be annual fees of between #100 and #500, depending on school size. But the lack of per-minute charges means teachers will be free from budgetary constraints.
Stephen Davidson, chairman of the Cable Communications Association, said: 'Only cable can offer schools the 'complete communications package', including multi-channel television, reduced telephone bills and Internet access."
Mary Marsh, head of London's Holland Park School and a member of Oftel's Education Task Force, said: 'This is excellent news. A fixed price with unlimited use is exactly what is needed to open access to the Internet and online communications for all students and teachers.'
But even if cable operators roll out cheap access across their 144 franchises, they will not reach all of Britain's schools. Jeff Hoon, Labour MP for Ashcroft, said: 'The scheme won't work unless all schools have the same opportunity.'
Eyes are now on BT to plug the gaps that cable cannot fill, but the giant telco would only say it has yet to thrash out terms with watchdog Oftel.
But there is little point in free Internet access for schools if there are no PCs to take advantage of it. A slew of policy ideas has come from Britain's MPs, including a push from technology minister, Ian Taylor, to earmark #300 million of Lottery money for school computers.
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