Another expansion is in the works for an Iowa-based educational network that offers up a world of news to schools nationwide. SCOLA uses a satellite downlink to collect broadcasts and share them with colleges and universities, but starting this week will also offer Internet access. SCOLA’s Dave Decker says they offer four channels ’round the clock, with news in some 70 languages from about 80 regions of the world. It’s now based in McClelland, Iowa, northeast of Council Bluffs. Decker says SCOLA was created by a Creighton University professor who got hold of a satellite dish and realized what a resource the newscasts from other countries could be for students of foreign languages. Professors told the company they want the local daily news, “the Dan Rather or Peter Jennings of that country,” so they pick up prime-time newscasts in dozens of foreign countries and let students in the U.S. learn from them how the language is spoken, complete with colloquialisms, slang and new words. Decker says SCOLA convinced local cable companies to use their satellite dishes, so schools didn’t have to set up their own to get the programs. That’s why in Iowa and all over the country some cable-TV customers can tune in the foreign-language news on an educational-access channel of their own cable system. They’re on in 70 “fairly good-sized markets,” and cable companies put SCOLA on a public-access channel any subscriber can tune in, including Cox Cable in Omaha and local systems in Iowa City, Ames and other cities in Iowa. Starting this week, SCOLA will also offer its four channels of foreign-language newscasts over the internet…for a price. Decker says private subscribers can buy the streaming service just like schools do. The colleges and universities finance SCOLA, paying for the service so the company can buy satellite time. Beyond that it’s looking for grants or other funding, as a nonprofit. The network gets daily news videotaped and mailed from Afghanistan, and even carries the sometimes controversial programming of the Arabic al-Jazeera network. Nobody’s objected to that, though Decker says viewers of south Florida cable networks that carry SCOLA did call in to ask why it’d picked up Cuban news programs. He says it’s part of the language-teaching mission behind SCOLA’s creation. He says people speak Spanish in 12 countries around the world and their versions of the language are different, and he adds some called in to thank the network for carrying Cuban news, assuring them they could tell for themselves what part of the broadcasts were that country’s propaganda. The contract he’s proudest of is getting the daily news from Afghanistan, where people have been taping the news and mailing it to SCOLA daily since the end of the war there. Decker says they have the less commonly-taught languages from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan — “we’ve got almost every ‘-stan’ there is, I think.” In addition to languages, students use the foreign-news service to study telecommunications technology, political science, business, history, sociology and more.
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