Satellite Online Solutions Corp., of San Ramon, Calif., is launching a unique program for schools called the ZapMe! Knowledge Network. ZapMe! offers a satellite-based intranet complete with education content, 15 computers, and a server to middle and high schools–absolutely free. The catch? Network sponsors’ logos must appear on the ZapMe! browser, and some pages on the network must carry corporate information.

“What we’ve really done is manage the advertising by scaling it down,” said Lance Mortensen, the company’s chief executive officer. “The advertising is very limited–we call it ‘educational messaging.’ It’s far less than what students are subjected to on the internet.”

Participating schools receive a satellite dish and server that are connected to the ZapMe! network through satellite signals and land-based lines, Mortensen explained. The schools also receive a printer and 15 Pentium-II computers running NT Workstation 4.0 operating systems with 17-inch monitors, he added.

According to the company, the ZapMe! network delivers high-speed (2 Mbps) multimedia education content via satellite. Some of the content is supplied by other companies, and much is taken from the web. The content is selected and reviewed by ZapMe! editors and K-12 educators for its usefulness and appropriateness to the K-12 classroom, the company said.

In return for the ZapMe! service, the school must supply the power and space for the network, plus a standard phone line. Schools also have to sign a contract promising to use the network at least four hours per day, allow evening use of the computers for community service and training, and help select the ZapMe! content by making recommendations to the company.

ZapMe! is supported by corporate sponsors who pay the company to deliver their educational content and brand image.

General Electric, for example, pays ZapMe! a fee to provide educational web content about space developed by GE. The General Electric corporate logo also is present on the ZapMe! browser.

Brand imaging

The display of corporate logos is called “brand imaging,” and it’s a practice some education groups frown on.<

Merede Graham, associate director for the Center for Commercial Free Public Education (CCFPE), said brand imaging is really a sophisticated form of advertising to kids. “It makes a school not a commercial-free zone; marketing to kids shouldn’t be part of the school day,” Graham said.

Graham likened the service that ZapMe! provides to the controversial Channel One. Channel One gives television sets to schools in exchange for broadcasting 12 minutes per day of Channel One’s content. Two minutes is advertising.

The National Education Association (NEA), American Association of School Administrators, National Association of Secondary School Principals, and National School Boards Association all oppose Channel One for its commercialization of instructional time.

“We send our kids to school to get an education, not to be manipulated by advertisers,” Graham said. “Education should be about teaching kids how to think, not what to think.”

But Mortesen disagreed.

“We’re trying to develop a bridge for content companies to reach schools,” Mortensen said. ” It’s not just about advertising, to be sure.”

ZapMe! Knowledge Network

Center for Commercial Free Public Education

National Education Association

Oakland Unified School District