School district goes wireless to avoid hungry rodents

A school whose computer system was plagued by line-gnawing rodents has decided to install a new wireless network.

The Union Local Board of Education in Morristown, Ohio, will contract Computer Business Center of Marietta, Ohio, to install the system, which will link computers between the district’s various schools buildings.

Rodents gnawed through the district’s original $14,000 underground fiber optic system. The lines’ salt content is believed to have attracted the animals.

District technology coordinator Carol LaPosta said she’s been promised that the wireless system will be as effective as the fiber optic lines.

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Justice Department appeals ruling on internet porn law

A federal appeals court will decide whether a law aimed at preventing minors from gaining access to pornography on the internet should be enforced.

The Justice Department has appealed U.S. District Judge Lowell A. Reed’s Feb. 1 preliminary injunction blocking the Child Online Protection Act from taking effect.

The law, signed by President Clinton last year, would require commercial web sites to collect a credit card number or some other access code as proof of age before allowing internet users to view online material deemed “harmful to minors.”

The April 2 action moves the case to a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, said Justice Department spokeswoman Chris Watney.

David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a plaintiff in the case, said he is confident the district court ruling will be upheld.

“The government is going to have an uphill battle in convincing the court of appeals that this law complies with the First Amendment,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of 17 clients, claiming it violates the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees and could be used to unfairly prosecute gays and lesbians, AIDS activists, or doctors distributing gynecological information.

ACLU attorney Chris Hansen, who argued the case before Judge Reed, was reluctant to predict how the case will turn out but said “the evidence supports the judge’s decision.”

The Justice Department argued during a six-day hearing in January that the law would act as a “brown paper wrapper” protecting children from pornographic material. The government also said that requiring web sites to install checkpoint areas in front of such material would be easy and inexpensive and not harmful to businesses.

The law is the second major effort by Congress to protect children from internet pornography after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which would have applied to both commercial and noncommercial web sites.

The law calls for maximum criminal penalties of six months in jail and $50,000 in fines. Repeat violators would face an additional $50,000 a day in fines. The law also provides for civil penalties of up to $50,000 a day.

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Savvy and software protected school computers from the much-hyped Melissa virus

The Melissa eMail virus that caused a stir among computer users several weeks ago also highlighted the ability of school technology personnel to react quickly and effectively sidestep a potential computer problem.

Even before the New Jersey man charged with originating the virus was arrested, it was clear school technology personnel were mobilizing to avoid Melissa. Several schools and districts reported they had received Melissa eMail messages, but none was reported to have been infected.

As fast as the virus spread, so, too, did urgent messages alerting people of the potential danger. Some school officials said anti-virus software caught the bug before Melissa could be activated.

The virus comes in the form of an eMail message, usually containing the subject line, “Important Message.” The message appears to be from a friend or colleague. The body of the eMail message says, “Here is that document you asked for–don’t show it to anyone else,” followed by a winking smiley face formed by the punctuation marks ;-).

Attached to the message is a Microsoft Word document file that lists internet pornography sites. Should the user open that file, which enables MS Word macros, the virus then digs into the user’s Microsoft Outlook eMail address book and sends infected documents to the first 50 addresses. Some large corporations and government agencies said the virus clogged and temporarily froze computer eMail systems.

The infected messages didn’t take long to reach school officials. Some officials report having received infected messages from their subscriptions to the Classroom Connect electronic newsletter.

“My eMail was infected on [the first] night with six copies from the same listserve source,” said Sanford Morris, district curriculum coordinator for the Oakfield-Alabama Central School District in Oakfield, N.Y. “While I did open the document, my security warned me about enabling the macros.”

Still not satisfied, however, Morris said he took the precaution of alerting everyone in his address book just in case. He also did a thorough check of his own system using an online anti-virus service.

“As it turned out, my computer was not infected because I did not enable macros,” he said. “All in all it was annoying, but I succeeded in doing no harm to my address book friends.”

Morris wasn’t the only one worried about sending infected messages to his friends. The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) has thousands of friends to be concerned about.

“Our networking guru, Carlos Murray, spent much of the day . . . running anti-virus software on all our terminals and disabling our Microsoft macros to ensure we did not receive the virus or pass it on unwittingly to any of our 15,000 members,” said AASA spokesman Jay Goldman. “I know we would not want to be responsible for passing on a lethal virus such as this to any school districts or their leaders.”

Meanwhile, one of the worst virus reports coming from a school or district doesn’t even involve Melissa.

The Borough Junior-Senior High School in Emerson, N.J., had to shut down all 240 of its classroom computers in April after a student apparently imported a virus called “Win95/CIH,” which infects a computer’s BIOS and overwrites its memory.

The Win95/CIH is considered much more devastating than Melissa.

Still, Melissa has caused its share of problems. People whose last names start with “A” or “B” have been especially beleaguered because most eMail address books are arranged in alphabetical order.

David L. Smith, a network programmer from Aberdeen, N.J., was arrested just one week after the Melissa virus began to spread. Authorities allege that Smith created the virus from his apartment.

He faces several charges, including interruption of public communications, conspiracy to commit the offense, attempt to commit the offense, and third-degree theft of computer service.

Melissa information and help sites

http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/special/melissavirus.html

http://www.symantec.com/techsupp/mailissa.html

http://www.microsoft.com/security/bulletins/ms99-002.asp

http://www.sendmail.com/blockmelissa.html

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Celebration School students test wearable security devices: Decoder-ring computer could eventually replace bar-code identification systems in schools

Dick Tracy has nothing on the students at The Celebration School near Orlando, Fla. The school has issued its students tiny, wearable personal computers that initially are being used to open locked doors throughout the school.

But there will be many future applications for the decoder-ring-like device developed by Dallas Semiconductor Corp. and based on Sun Microsystems’ Java technology, school officials said.

Called iButton, the machine packs a Java computer chip inside a small, but durable, stainless-steel case. The tiny computers are designed to be worn as a ring, watch, dog tag, or key ring and can be used for more than just access to physical locations. The “very” personal computers also can be programmed to control access to personal files or resources, such as the internet, to track attendance as students enter a classroom, and to use an electronic accounting, or eCash, system in the school cafeteria.

“Of course, students use computers, but they haven’t been able to wear them until now,” said Michael Bolan, vice president of product development at Dallas Semiconductor.

The iButton comes with several safeguards to withstand demanding student use. Its resemblance to a valued fashion accessory reduces the chances it will be lost. The device’s stainless-steel casing protects the iButton from daily wear and tear.

The iButton is personalized and further secured with a personal identification number (PIN). It can be programmed to be inoperable if the valid PIN is not entered each day, for example.

At The Celebration School, 100 students and teachers are beta-testing the iButton. The school, which keeps its doors locked for security purposes, wanted a way to give its students access to the rooms they are supposed to be in, without disrupting their classmates.

The electronic door locks were designed by Schlage with a network integration developed by Lares Technology. The locks have a “Blue Dot Receptor” button that opens the door when a valid iButton is pressed to it. That same type of receptor button could also be used to control access to computers and the internet, among other things.

The Blue Dot Receptor accessory, the pipeline to the computer system, could also come in handy for home use. For example, a student unable to make it to school could still complete assignments at home, digitally sign them to assure teachers they did the work, and eMail them to school.

A Sun authentication server controls all access privileges and has been integrated into a kiosk system, designed by Science Applications International Corp. The system works on desktop, laptop, or handheld PCs, as well as with handheld reader/writer devices.

“The coolest things since Madonna”

The Celebration School showcased the iButton system during the Florida Educational Technology Conference, held in Orlando in mid-March. The school invited parents, residents, and conference attendees to the event.

“The kids think these are the coolest things since Madonna,” said Scott Muri, the school’s instructional technology specialist.

One of the best things about the machines, he said, is that they are “making technology part of the everyday environment.”

And at The Celebration School, the students will play a large role in developing future applications for the system. “The possibilities are endless,” Muri said.

One application the students are working on would allow them access to personal files from the school’s network, an intranet, or their computer at home.

The school has an open internet policy, so it won’t be using the iButton to grant conditional access there. But it is looking at an eCash solution for its cafeteria. Muri envisions the iButtons one day replacing the school’s bar-code identification system. The school does plan to personalize its machines with PIN numbers, but only while it works to develop a more advanced biometrics identification system using fingerprints.

The Celebration School is a K-12 public school owned by the Osceola County School District. It has an enrollment of 925 students. The school was built through a collaboration among the district, the Walt Disney Co., and Stetson University.

Students are taught in multi-age groups that focus on personalized learning plans and portfolios. The school facility supports interactive learning and provides innovative technology linkages for communication throughout the community and world.

The Celebration School has formed partnerships with some 17 technology companies to make the facility a model for high-tech schools. Muri said school officials will evaluate the iButton system this summer before providing the devices to the entire student body and staff.

Celebration School

http://www.ctan.com/celebration

Dallas Semiconductor Corp.

http://www.dalsemi.com, www.iButton.com

Lares Technology

http://www.lares.com

Schlage Lock Corp.

http://www.schlage.com/products/epkey.htm

Science Applications International Corp.

http://www.saic.com

Sun Microsystems

http://www.sun.com/software/cover

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Schools loom large in Utah’s drive to become nation’s first

In time for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt wants to make schools a core element in his plan to transform Utah into the nation’s first “digital state.”

A new Utah law aims to put all state services online within three years.

The Digital State Act specifies several educational initiatives, including a push for greater access to distance learning and improved communication between schools and homes.

According to legislative documents, Utah wants to ensure the availability of online services such as school registration, progress reporting, and videoconferencing for all its schools. These services would help “promote increased connectivity and interaction between teachers, students, and parents.”

Under the act, public schools would be expected to make “reasonable progress” toward fostering eMail communication among parents, teachers, and principals by 2002. The state’s plan also calls for parents to have access to lesson plans and student records online.

According to school legislative chief Doug Bates, the state’s Office of Education hasn’t been given a directive yet on public school requirements under the act. But many districts and schools in the state already provide parents with online access to teachers and student information, Bates said, so the act is only likely to bolster those existing initiatives.

The Digital State Act also aims to improve the digital infrastructure at schools, allowing for the delivery of integrated voice, video, and data into both schools and homes. The act calls for ongoing funding in this area as part of its goal to provide fully interactive educational content over the internet.

Through initiatives such as the Utah Electronic High School, the law is intended to advance the broader goal of providing distance learning opportunities to students in remote areas and to those otherwise unable to attend school.

The act additionally seeks to establish the equivalent of a community college on the internet that is accessible to all homes and students in the state.

At the same time, the Digital State Act addresses statewide high-speed internet access, economic development, and the availability of all state services online.

Olympic showcase

Not coincidentally, Utah hosts the Winter Olympics in 2002 and hopes to use the event as a showcase for the state’s growing technology sector.

“It’s really just an acknowledgment of where we think the economy is going,” said Gov. Leavitt upon signing the act, which he originally outlined during his January state of the state address. “We think this makes us an attractive place.”

While some states already offer limited services online, Utah has now emerged as one of the most aggressive both in terms of the scope of services to be offered and in establishing a firm target date for all state agencies, Utah officials said.

Utah residents, who are already able to obtain hunting licenses and file tax returns online, will eventually be able to use the internet for everything from applying for drivers licenses, unemployment, and welfare benefits to securing permits and making payments to the state.

Utah is well-suited to become a test case for providing digital services. According to the governor’s office, more than 50 percent of the state’s households have computers, and almost three-fourths of its residents have access to computers either at home, school, or work.

On the other hand, Utah’s geography and population patterns present problems in wiring the entire populace. A task force will be formed to determine the best solution for connecting residents in remote areas who do not currently have direct dial-up access to the internet.

Utah’s drive to put all state services online follows its 1995 adoption of the Digital Signatures Act, which created the first legal system in the world to enable electronic transactions through digital signatures. The law allowed Utah to become the first state in the nation to sell state bonds online.

The signatures act could eventually lead to online voting in Utah as well, officials said.

Utah State Office of Education

http://www.usoe.k12.ut.us

Digital State Briefing Paper

http://www.cio.state.ut.us

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Teachers’ groups criticize rush to online classes

Just one month after a virtual university became the nation’s first fully online education venture to receive a stamp of approval from a major accrediting institution, a pair of reports were released that questioned the push to offer classes via the internet.

On April 7, the College Board issued a report warning that internet courses actually could hinder the progress of poor and minority students who have less exposure to computers than their white or more affluent peers. Another report, issued the same week by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, said colleges lack sufficient knowledge about internet courses to justify their rapid growth.

“There’s this rush to get online and go virtual…Colleges, policy-makers, and [internet] providers who are driving this market need to think about broad access,” said Lawrence Gladieux, co-author of the College Board report.

Citing figures from the U.S. Commerce Department, the report said that while 41 percent of white households have a computer, only 19 percent of black families and 19 percent of Latino families do. The report also said 80 percent of freshmen at private universities used eMail in the past year, compared to 64 percent at public four-year colleges and 41 percent at public, historically black colleges.

“There is no doubt that the world wide web shatters barriers of time and space in the delivery of instruction,” the report said. “But its advent is also likely to create new barriers and inequities, simply because of differential availability of the required technology.”

The Institute for Higher Education Policy report, meanwhile, argued that studies haven’t explained a higher dropout rate for internet-based learners–32 percent compared to 4 percent in one study reviewed by researchers–or examined whether students do better from internet instruction alone or from a mix of internet and classroom-based learning.

The report by the Washington, D.C., think tank–which was funded by a grant from two teachers’ unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association–also took issue with the conclusion of several studies that online courses can be just as rigorous and successful as those presented in a traditional classroom setting.

Supporters of online education were quick to dismiss the reports’ criticism. Some even suggested the reports were motivated more by faculty concerns about job security than they were by issues of quality and access.

“By using the new technology, you’re extending the university learning experience to more people,” said Gary Miller, associate vice president of distance education at Pennsylvania State University. “Because the new technology has not reached everyone yet isn’t a reason not to pursue it–if you use that line of thinking, there would be no college campuses in the country.”

Steve Crow, executive director of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the accrediting body for more than 900 colleges and universities, agreed.

“There is a considerable amount of fear within faculties that online education is a way to get rid of the faculty,” Crow said. “But it is my own personal opinion that distance education will not get rid of the faculty. It will, however, restucture how faculties do their work.”

Professors protest accreditation

In March, the North Central Association (NCA) drew criticism from the country’s leading organization of college professors when it accredited Jones International University, a virtual college based in Englewood, Colo., and the first fully online institution to receive approval from one of the six regional associations for accrediting U.S. colleges and schools.

James Perley, a biology professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio and chairman of the American Association of University Professors, (AAUP) committee on accrediting colleges and universities, sent a sharply-worded letter to Crow expressing the group’s “shock and dismay” at the decision to grant Jones accreditation and asking that it be reconsidered.

Launched in 1995, Jones International University offers 18 certification programs as well as undergraduate and master’s degree programs in business communications. About 950 students currently are enrolled in courses, according to Jones University president Pamela Pease.

The accreditation of Jones University offers significant benefits to its students: They can transfer credits more easily and are more likely to earn tuition reimbursements from their employers. But it also confers a legitimacy to the university and to online learning in general, many observers say.

“It gives credibility to all virtual institutions. That’s important,” Robert C. Albrecht, chief academic officer of Western Governors University, told the New York Times. Western Governors University is a virtual college with offices in Denver and Salt Lake City that is also seeking accreditation.

Other online programs have been accredited in the U.S., but as part of larger institutions that offer traditional as well as online programs. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Independent High School, for example, offers an online diploma program accredited by NCA, but its distance education program has provided accredited correspondence courses for the past 70 years.

In his letter, Perley said the AAUP supports the exploration of online learning, but takes objection to the fact that Jones employs only two full-time professors, offers courses that “lack substance,” and puts little emphasis on faculty research or scholarship.

Margaret Lee, chairwoman of the 15-person NCA commission that voted unanimously in favor of the Jones accreditation, said it was “absolutely unlikely” the group would reconsider its decision.

Lee, who is president of Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Ill., said she believed the letter was prompted by fear and a misunderstanding of online learning ventures. “To think you can limit learning to that old model–it’s just impossible,” she said.

College Board

http://www.collegeboard.org

Institute for Higher Education Policy

http://www.ihep.com

North Central Association of Colleges and Schools

http://www.nca.asu.edu

Jones International University

http://www.jonesinternational.edu

American Association of University Professors

http://www.aaup.org

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From the Publisher: New life for the v-chip

Government support is an unreliable gauge of whether a technology really will catch on. In our disputatious society, a better measure might be controversy. And if contentiousness is the key, then internet content filters must be teetering on the brink of unbridled popularity, as our front page story on the patent controversy surrounding content filters plainly shows.

Contrast the sturm and drang booming over internet content filters with the eerie silence enveloping the v-chip. That little governor, already being insinuated into the nation’s TV sets, has been available to consumers since 1997, but so far it’s seemed rooted to the shelf. (Citizens just insist on clinging to their legacy technology–more commonly known as the on/off switch.)

Government backing hasn’t done much for the v-chip, but perhaps federal support for the Next Generation Internet (NGI) can save it–maybe even rendering moot the content-filter controversy.

That whimsical possibility arises from the most striking difference between the good, old-fashioned internet–now known by aficionados as the “commodity internet”–and what’s coming soon to a monitor near you: Video.

Major corporate players such as FVC.com (see page 36), Lucent, WorldCom, and Cisco are teaming up as fast as they can with universities and government agencies to deliver the advanced internet and its full-motion, theater-quality video.

The advanced internet is here and now, but people probably won’t fully appreciate that until somebody sorts out the confusion over its various labels–Internet2, NGI, and Abilene.

For starters, Internet2 is a collaborative effort in higher education, not a single, separate network. Internet2 joins the network applications and engineering efforts of its members together with numerous advanced campus, regional, and national networks.

Next comes NGI. This federal initiative is focused on developing the technological infrastructure needed by federal agencies. So NGI is not precisely a network either, at least not in the technological sense.

And then there’s “Abilene.” Now, there’s a network!

Abilene represents a practical application of what initiatives such as Internet2 and NGI are striving for. Abilene debuted just two months ago, built at a cost reported to be $500 million. It is a super-fast network currently spanning some 10,000 miles and linking nearly 40 universities. It’s expected to link more than 60 universities by the end of this year. More than 45 of America’s leading technology corporations are involved in its development.

Abilene allows for the transfer of 2.4 billion bits of data per second. Depending on your sources, that’s either 45,000 or 85,000 times faster than the transfer rate achieved by a 56K modem. Or, to put it another way, Abilene is 1,600 times faster than a T-1 line.

“It’s the difference,” one expert explained, “between watching a motion picture and flipping through the pages of a book.” The entire contents of an encyclopedia, it is reported, can be downloaded in seconds.

“In three years,” says Douglas Van Houweling, an Internet2 leader, “people will be routinely watching TV on the internet.” On a moment’s notice, people anywhere on earth will hold virtual meetings via the advanced internet.

This new internet eventually will play a part in nearly all segments of society. It will aid in the design of cars and trucks through remote three-dimensional modeling. It will connect supercomputers to improve hurricane and tornado forecasting. It will help distant research labs collaborate in analyzing the distribution of groundwater contaminants and improve medical procedures. And, of course, schools will use the advanced internet for distance learning and computer simulations for science and math instruction.

Advanced computer networks like Abilene will accelerate learning on all fronts–from virtual laboratories, to remote science sampling, to digital libraries.

Barely a generation after the creation of that old, decrepit “commodity internet,” the next big thing already is coming into view–provided a v-chip doesn’t block it.

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Internet links turbocharge new science textbooks

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) is helping to usher in a new age in school textbooks. The organization has teamed with publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston to introduce sciLINKS, a program that will direct students from the pages of their textbooks to applicable information on the internet.

NSTA announced the new initiative during its annual conference, held in Boston March 25-27, where U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley helped unveil two new science textbooks that provide links to web pages through special access codes in the margins.

“I’m excited about this,” Riley told conference attendees. “Imagine the excitement of a child who studies about the solar system and then goes online to learn about the Mars Pathfinder Mission.”

Though not the first school books to provide internet addresses for further study, organizers say the sciLINKS program is the first to establish a web site and search tool exclusively for textbook links. sciLINKS also will ensure that links stay fresh and up-to-date long after the textbook is published.

Here’s how the program works: Instead of showing actual web addresses for applicable links, the textbooks provide five-digit codes that, when entered into the online sciLINKS search tool, point students and teachers to pre-approved, relevant, and age-appropriate web sites that support the particular science subject being addressed in the text.

Holt is the first to participate in sciLINKS. The company has agreed to publish codes in its Holt Environmental Science and Holt Chemistry Visualizing Matter textbooks. Holt also has agreed to maintain and refresh the access codes for 15 years and said it will include sciLINKS codes in future titles as well.

Holt’s parent company, Harcourt Brace, also has signed a contract to incorporate sciLINKS into its new elementary series called Harcourt Science.

NSTA continues to negotiate with other publishers as well, the organization said.

The sciLINKS web site was developed with technical help from NASA, which also provided a $210,000 grant to research the feasibility of the project.

Eliminating searches

Seeing the textbook for the first time during the NSTA conference, science teacher Richard Guzowski said he likes the idea of enabling students to research textbook topics on the internet, adding that he has always emphasized current events in his classroom.

Guzowski, who teaches environmental science at Springfield High School in Massachusetts, said some of his students have already tried to find information on the internet on their own, but have found searching the open internet for a specific topic difficult.

A 1997 study conducted by the NEC Research Institute found that there were at least 320 million pages of indexable web pages at the time. A separate study conducted by MCI Corp. shows that 92 percent of the teachers polled said the internet is an important classroom tool, and almost the same number said they would like to use the web to teach core subjects.

“Teachers are spending valuable time scouring the internet for quality and timely materials to support their classroom teaching,” remarked NSTA Executive Director Gerry Wheeler. “sciLinks allows them to rely on our team of educators to do the searching for them and gives them a way of bringing today’s late-breaking news into the classroom.”

Teams of professional educators and curriculum specialists are involved in selecting and maintaining textbook links to key sites on the internet. NSTA and the publisher review the textbook to decide which locations would be most appropriate for links.

At the same time, a team of off-site “Web Watchers” scan the internet in search of subject-based sites. Sites are chosen and rated based on predetermined criteria and are then reviewed by a second team of educators to narrow down the selections to the best ones.

A team of classroom teachers serves as a review committee, continually assessing sciLINKS web pages and offering feedback on the program. Meanwhile, NSTA continues seeking out the newest, most up-to-date web sites to add to the system.

NSTA uses a variety of criteria to evaluate a web site, placing a priority on those that enhance the learning experience and aid in the understanding of science concepts. Among the criteria NSTA looks at are audience, content, accuracy, objectivity, quality of writing, and timeliness. The organization also looks for sites that are unique and visually interesting, contain opportunities for interactivity, and are convenient and intuitive to use.

The program is free to students, teachers, and parents who use participating sciLINKS textbooks. Web sites can be used for both in-class instruction and independent student exploration, and NSTA plans to add sites specifically for home use by parents as the system grows.

NSTA said sciLINKS will also provide links to subject-specific television programming provided by Cable in the Classroom.

Holt, Rinehart and Winston

http://www.hrw.com

NASA

http://www.nasa.gov

NSTA

http://www.nsta.org

SciLinks

http://www.scilinks.org

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SurfWatch wins rights to internet filtering patent: Schools ponder impact on software prices

The decision in March by the U.S. Patent Office to give SurfWatch Software the rights to a major type of internet content filtering technology left school observers wondering how the decision will affect product availability and the price schools might have to pay to protect students from the seamy side of the internet.

In the hours immediately after the announcement, all the major players in the intensely competitive internet content filtering market were scrambling to sort out the implications of the patent office decision. SurfWatch competitors polled for this report were unanimous on one point, however: The patent won’t hinder their ability to sell their own filtering solutions, they assured eSchool News.

Even so, a legal storm could be gathering if SurfWatch should decide to use the power of its patent to require licensing by other filter makers or attempt to drive its competitors out of the market.

To the untutored eye, the patent award might appear to spell doom for SurfWatch competitors. But SurfWatch, experts say, would be unable to put a lock on the content filter market even if it had a mind to. And at press time, Surf- Watch told eSchool News it had ruled nothing in or out.

For one thing, the patent applies only to “client-side” filtering technology–that is, software installed on individual PCs. This is important, experts said, because it means makers of “server-side” filters–or software installed on a network’s main computer–are unaffected by the SurfWatch patent.

Any legal battle that might ensue would probably ensnare SurfWatch and its primary client-side competitors–namely The Learning Company’s Cyber Patrol, Log-on Data’s X-Stop, and Net Nanny Software.

Server-side software makers such as N2H2 and SmartStuff were quick to say the new patent would have no bearing on their businesses. SurfWatch, a division of Spyglass Inc., agreed it could not apply its patent to the server-side applications.

What happens in the client-side segment of the filter market depends primarily on how SurfWatch decides to play its patent card.

“We have not finalized our strategy,” SurfWatch marketing director Theresa Marcroft told eSchool News. “But we feel we certainly have grounds to discuss this with our competitors.”

Because of the time and legal costs associated with defending a patent, Marcroft indicated the company, in any event, would target only its top competitors. In the client-side filtering category, Net Nanny, X-Stop, Cyber Patrol, and SurfWatch are the market leaders.

“We would defend the patent where it makes sense,” Marcroft said. Whether

SurfWatch would seek compensation for use of its technology or attempt to stop the companies from continuing with their applications has yet to be decided, she said.

The patent–No. 5,884,033–is titled “Internet Filtering System for Filtering Data Transferred over the Internet Utilizing Immediate and Deferred Filtering Actions.”

The patent covers the steps of maintaining a database of filters, comparing information in an internet request for information in one or more of those databases, and then determining whether to prevent or allow the transmission as a result of that comparison, Marcroft said.

Net Nanny, Cyber Patrol, and others might have something to worry about, experts say, because most client-side filter makers use similar methods to filter internet transmissions.

But a Cyber Patrol spokeswoman disagreed, saying her company has nothing to be concerned about. “[The patent] doesn’t affect us at all,” she said, although she declined a reporter’s request to elaborate on the company’s position.

Net Nanny president and CEO Gordon Ross had more to say.

If anyone should have a patent on client-side filtering technology, he declared, it should be his company. It was Net Nanny, according to Ross, that first introduced internet filtering technology. His company shipped its product for the first time in January of 1995, he said–four months before SurfWatch would have had to introduce its product to qualify it for patent protection.

To qualify for a U.S. patent, a patent expert explained, a company must file an application within one year of the invention’s initial introduction to the marketplace.

SurfWatch reportedly filed for its content-filtering patent in May of 1996, indicating that the technology was introduced no earlier than in May of 1995.

For the record, Marc Kanter, vice president of marketing for Solid Oak Software, which sells CyberSitter filtering software, said his company first introduced client-side filtering in the summer of 1994, with a program originally called PG-13.

If Net Nanny or CyberSitter can prove through its records that it shipped the technology first, a court could decide that one of them and not SurfWatch has a legal right to the patent, said noted cyberspace lawyer Parry Aftab, author of The Parent’s Guide to the Internet, which deals with internet content filtering issues.

For now, however, most SurfWatch competitors are merely waiting to see what happens next.

“If they come after us, we may challenge their patent,” Net Nanny president Ross said, adding that his attorneys, like Aftab, believe Net Nanny might have a right to the patent.

If that could be the case, why didn’t Net Nanny apply for the patent itself, presumably saving the company from the potential legal battle it might now face?

The company just didn’t think it was necessary at the time, Ross said.

Sorting claims about invention launch dates is not the responsibility of the U.S. Patent Office, Aftab explained. “They rely on what people tell them,” she said.

SurfWatch

http://www.surfwatch.com

Cyber Patrol

http://www.cyberpatrol.com

Net Nanny

http://www.netnanny.com

X-Stop

http://www.xstop.com

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“Digital-pulse” technology could change your life: A major breakthrough in wireless is on the way

A breakthrough technology being developed by a Huntsville, Ala. company called Time Domain could revolutionize school networks and communications in the not-too-distant future.

Called “digital-pulse technology,” it’s a way to transmit information wirelessly by using pulses of energy instead of radio waves. Each pulse represents a 1 or a 0, the digital language of computers. Ten to 40 million pulses can be sent per second, according to Time Domain–fast enough to carry voice, video, and data.

“Time Domain appears to have developed a ‘fundamental and enabling’ technology that will do things that no other technology on earth can do,” said Paul Turner, a Price Waterhouse technology analyst, who also serves on the Time Domain’s board of directors. The new technology will significantly enhance three existing technologies simultaneously, he said: radar, global positioning technology, and wireless communications.

Since the first demonstration of wireless communication in the 1880s, a Time Domain web site explains, all practical uses of radio have relied on the transmission of continuous sine waves: “The modulation of those sine waves allows the transmission and reception of information in either amplitude (AM radio) or frequency (FM radio). From 1890 to the present, industry has searched for ways to send more information more reliably.”

“Now,” says Time Domain, “the entire wireless landscape has changed.” The digital-pulse wireless medium does not rely on sine waves, does not require an assigned frequency, does not need a power amplifier, and is so random and low powered that it is indistinguishable from noise, says Time Domain founder Larry Fullerton, inventor of the technology.

“The medium does require precise pulse placement in time,” the company says, “and it also requires a coherent correlating receiver–a ‘Fullerton correlator’.”

Time Domain, founded in a garage in 1987, now is working with IBM, Worldcom, and the U.S. Marines, among others. Two dozen working prototypes of product applications exist, the company says, and miniaturization of the technology to the chip level is under way. The company predicts an ultimate demand of more than a billion chips per year in ventures such as “last-mile solutions,” covert communications, wireless LANs, through-wall radar, E-911 positioning, asset tracking, and security systems. Industry observers say the technology has the potential to revolutionize the entire wireless industry.

Pulse technology offers several significant advantages over today’s wireless devices. For one thing, there are limits to how much information radio waves can carry and how much space there is on the radio dial. But pulses have no frequency, so they’re not confined to a single channel. Pulse technology could free up the crowded radio spectrum that today’s wireless devices use to transmit information.

Another advantage is that pulses require much less battery and transmitter power, because the signals are so far apart they don’t collide with each other. Pulse-technology devices could operate on one-thousandth the power of devices that use radio waves, Time Domain says, so a wireless communicator could conceivably be made the size of a quarter.

For schools, pulse technology offers exciting possibilities for wireless networking. According to Time Domain senior vice president Peggy Sammon, the technology could enable schools to quickly and easily set up a wireless LAN or even create a “mobile campus,” in which students carry laptops from classroom to classroom while always maintaining a network connection.

“To get that kind of mobility now requires a great deal of infrastructure,” Sammon said, such as wireless bridges in the ceiling of every fourth or fifth classroom. “This (digital-pulse wireless) application would require very little infrastructure.”

A further advantage of the new technology is that pulses are timed according to a complex code shared only by the sender and receiver. For one device to listen to another, each must share a code that tells the listening device which positions to listen to in what order. Because of the enormous number of possible combinations of positions, Time Domain says, there’s no way to intercept this kind of signal–so completely secure transactions might soon be possible as well.

Hand-held radar

Because the pulses are read by timing the incoming signals to the nearest trillionth of a second, any pulse device can tell how long it takes for a signal to get to it or bounce back from it. Using pulse technology, the positions of objects can be pinpointed to within less than an inch, compared to a position-identification capability ofwithin about five feet for current global positioning satellite technology.

Besides offering cheap, secure wireless communication, a cellular phone built with Time Domain’s technology could double as a handheld radar device. Unlike today’s radar, though, pulse signals can travel through walls.

Time Domain already has made hand-held prototypes for police to use to “see” inside a room before bursting in, and a few small companies are using the technology to make pulse radar devices for measuring the liquid in steel storage tanks. Meanwhile, the Marines have been looking at Time Domain prototypes because they’d like a walkie-talkie that’s undetectable and can tell the location of every member of a unit.

The technology’s radar application has significant potential for schools as well, Sammon said. For example, schools could use a pulse-radar device for inventory control. By equipping items such as projectors and computers with radio frequency (RF) tags, Sammon said, you could keep track of inventory on expensive equipment.

The technology could even be used to monitor the security of students, Sammon’s said–though she said Time Domain doesn’t necessarily advocate such a use. For example, elementary students at recess or on a field trip could be outfitted with wearable RF tags to keep track of their whereabouts.

Mass-market products, including those for the education market, are still “a couple years off,” Sammon said. Right now, the company is developing specific applications of the technology for its business partners, but applications for the education market would be “a very easy offshoot” from these, she said.

Time Domain still faces many hurdles before its digital-pulse technology really can take off. One of the biggest is clearance from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has not yet granted the company permission to test its products. Because pulse technology doesn’t resemble anything the FCC has experienced before, the agency has been wary to grant its approval. But Time Domain chief executive officer Ralph Petroff met with FCC commissioners at their request April 6–a possible sign this hurdle, at least, will be cleared.

Time Domain

http://www.time-domain.com

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