BitDepth 775 - March 29

Flow talks about its plans for incorporating cable into the classroom,
Education cable
At left: Rhea Yaw Ching. Photograph by Brian Ng Fatt.

Rhea Yaw Ching is getting more passionate about this subject by the minute. Over the gentle gurgle of techno muzak at a Columbus event in Jamaica, the company’s Group Head, Sales, Marketing and Communications for the Southern Caribbean is actually getting flushed in the face talking about Flow’s plans for education in Trinidad and Tobago.

Truth be told, much of the blood flowing to her head is the result of her annoyance with the strategies of her competitors in the broadband market in T&T. 
At one point she takes a deep breath and looks at me with a careful corporate smile.

“Did I just say that? I didn’t say that. Forget I said that,” she says with a charming grin.
My interest in Flow’s plans for education began at the popular Flow’s World event held last year at the Hyatt. It wasn’t, to be blunt, my cup of tea. Children underfoot, pointless 3D TV and a green Astroturf in the middle of it all as the nexus for celebrities and quasi-celebrities providing engagement entertainment for the families cruising through the event.
Way too much snat and drool for my tastes in one place, but off to the side in some narrow little nooks were some interesting little surprises, clever bits of web programming that looked as if they would be an interesting supplement to homework being done on a first former’s new laptop.

Flow has been keen on building on its contractual commitments to the Trinidad and Tobago government as a telecommunications provider and has, aside from providing free cable television connections to schools, set up 103 schools nationwide, each done on a one by one basis.
The company is still hoping to craft a holistic programme for its planned strategy with the government to enable an adventurous mix of cable television and Internet based supplemental material to the traditional teaching menu.

Flow is finalising arrangements with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Public Administration to begin building pilot Homework Zones in some schools targeting children ages three through nine with cable television serviced by a personal video recorder (PVR) that teachers can set up to prerecord relevant programming that can inform and enrich assignments.
In ten secondary schools, another pilot programme will provide access for up to 90 first form students at a time to a multimedia projector, television, PVR and 100Mbps Internet access to deliver teacher directed programming and content to students.

The programming will recontextualise content from the History Channel and Discovery Channel with prepared material for teachers delivered via the web that allows them to plan instruction around a richer multimedia experience.
The bandwidth alone will cost Flow half a million dollars per month, and Flow plans to run the programme as a test platform for a full school year to evaluate its relevance and applicability in local school curriculums.
The project will eventually encompass a large video on demand library of educational programming. 

That idea is still awaiting formal acceptance from the government, as is an even more radical application of high bandwidth technology, the introduction of video conferencing technology in the classroom as a way of multiplying teaching capacity, particularly for schools in remote locations.
That project would make it possible for substitute teachers and special lecturers to provide teaching services to schools without incurring costs in time and travel.
“That’s all well and good,” I respond, “But why can’t I watch House when it’s supposed to be on?”
Yaw Ching looks at me blankly for a second. Then she realises what I’m on about.
“Ah,” she says, “Selective blocking of first run programmes.”
“You know, TATT is the most organised and functional regulatory body in the region...but not everyone plays by the rules.”

Evidently, in addition to the more obvious rights conflict issues that arise when local television buys a popular live show that leads to the feed being blanked out, some feed providers will blank expensive first run showings of television series, but allow the reruns later in the week.
This happens on the provider side of things, and Flow often has no idea when it’s going to happen.

“We’re trying to get providers to slot in alternative programming when that happens, but sometimes there’s just nothing there. House? You should hear what happens when it’s American Idol!” Yaw Ching said.
“Flow has come a long way since we bought this cable network. We are more compliant with IP rights and with the largest subscriber base in the region, 250,000 subscribers, we can go to content providers with more clout to negotiate for better programming. That makes things better for everyone.”

The BG story on Columbus Business Solutions' launch in Jamaica.
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