BELL ATLANTIC AND TCI SAY they will connect 26,000 elementary and secondary schools nationwide to the Information Superhighway within five years. Their project, called the Basic Education Connection, will include free cable programming, free access to data services, and free connections to the Internet, letting kids chat electronically with others. Bell Atlantic and Tele-Communications Inc., which plan to merge, say their plan signals the enormous educational potential of the superhighway.

IN REALITY, this has the earmarks of clever PR meant to show they can deliver electronic altruism without government prodding. Phone and cable companies worry about being burdened with "universal service" rules forcing them to subsidize Info Highway connections for low-income residents. Trouble is, it'll take longer than billed to hook up schools in poor and rural areas, which most need an educational boost. The five-year building timetable is too optimistic: A Deloitte & Touche study says only 40% of U.S. households will be connected by 2000. Bell Atlantic and TCI will surely target affluent suburban areas first. $by

Bart Ziegler

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