The move follows a pledge made by cable operators in January to provide schools with unlimted net access for no more that £1 a-head. Telewest will provide a service called E-cademy which will be made available to schools currently taking existing Telewest cable services, while RM will provide its Internet for Learning package.
Telewest said that telephone, cable TV programmes and Internet access, including Internet service provider costs are available free of charge. Schools pay extra for telephony services and rental of either basic dial-up or ISDN access.
RM internet marketing manager Tim Clark said that "schools are scared of unknown costs," a fear which has been addressed by Oftel in its proposal that BT should be able to offer schools an ISDN 2 line for as little as £665 a year. ISP costs will be on top of this but BT has yet to respond to Oftel's proposal.
Telewest said that total annual charges for its service are expected to be less than £500, for a school with 500 pupils using the basic level one service, putting it on a competitive path with BT. Levels two and three of the service are aimed at schools that want to network with communities and local authorities.
According to Clark, this is where BT will help the school market. "There are only around 200 schools in the UK that have networked internet access. The rest cannot afford it and rely on Internet access on just one or two machines. But it's irrelevant to us whether schools get access to the Internet via cable or dial-up through ISPs. What is important is bandwidth. Few people work with a 10Mbit cable modem therefore you don't necessarily get better performance, although you might get through some bottlenecks faster."
RM has around 5,000 accounts for its Internet for Learning Internet package, which is over 4,000 schools, mostly in secondary education. Clark said that the Telewest deal will help RM increase its holding on the UK school net content market.