IQ News: ZapMe Beams Into Classrooms

As Internet access and computer skills become crucial for students, trading them for ad space doesn’t seem as alarming as it did when Chris Whittle introduced his Channel One service in 1989.
Or so it seems as San Ramon, Calif.-based ZapMe Corporation prepares to launch a satellite-based computer network for schools on Wednesday. The company has more than 100 schools in 12 states signed up, and a long waiting list.
ZapMe will provide the complete infrastructure for middle and high school computer labs free in return for selling advertising space in a window on its proprietary Web browser. In exchange, schools receive 15 Pentium II Compaq PCs; Compaq servers; a suite of Microsoft products including Office Suite and SQL DataBase; 17-inch Philips monitors; satellite uplink facilities by GE Americom; and TIBCO Software data transmission applications.
Most of the technology companies are providing equipment in return for advertising on the system rather than cash. ZapMe estimates the total value of the service to be $9,500 per month, per school.
“We initially tried to sell the service [directly] to schools,” said chairman and CEO Lance Mortensen, “but we discovered that the schools don’t have any money. We realized, ‘Free is good.'”
The school district is responsible for registering students on the service. Parents sign permission slips authorizing access only to ZapMe’s “extranet” of around 10,000 Web sites or full Internet access. Either service includes e-mail, bulletin boards with dynamically generated content (so that, for example, kids don’t see information designed for teachers), monitored chat during limited hours, and search using AltaVista’s technology.
A proprietary browser application runs on top of the Internet browser, hiding the browser screen. A “bulletin board” taking up approximately one-eighth of the page in the lower left corner serves a constantly rotating selection of ads and announcements from the school. Clicking on one of the ads launches a full-screen rich media presentation which can be linked to the advertiser’s Web site.
Ad placements are currently limited to the network’s technology partners. In the future, placements will be sold to other advertisers ZapMe considers appropriate, including non-technology companies.
ZapMe expects to have 300-500 schools wired by the end of 1998. –Susan Kuchinskas