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AT&T Corp. has signed a half-million dollar deal to sponsor the Family Education Network's statewide Web initiative in Maryland.

Tapping the Internet to connect parents with their children's schools, Family Education Network ( will begin creating sites for all Maryland's 24 school districts. FEN has also created individual sites for some 300 schools across the country from Redding, Calif., to Hingham, Mass.

Sites include school-specific information such as lunch menus, sports calendars and minutes of school board meetings. Sites also offer more general content like an area that indexes about 300 sites that would be helpful to students completing homework assignments and a directory of e-mail addresses for school instructors, board members and educational directors across the country.


"We're in the midst of building an infrastructure of robust Web sites that target parents and help them get more involved in their children's education," said Jon Carson, president of Boston-based FEN. "The initiative is good for the community, the school system and parents; and good will that's generated from it can be easily transferred to a marketer."

AT&T's commitment to FEN grew from its pledge to the Learning Network, the telecommunications giant's $150 million program to bring the Net to schools. Its sponsorship deal in Maryland buys banners on each school's site, plus the rights to sell AT&T long distance and Internet access. AT&T's Maryland long-distance customers can earn "Learning Points" redeemable by schools for computer equipment and Internet accounts.

"Consumers have told us that the national agenda they care most about is education," said Joan Fenwick, director of AT&T's Learning Network.

Family Education Network plans to have 600 schools online by fall, representing 500,000 households. The network is also close to signing another statewide deal, maybe in Arizona.

FEN is also selling seven network-wide sponsorships for between $300,000 and $500,000 a year. It's now in negotiations with a car company, an insurance company and a financial services firm. FEN's 50 sponsors include John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research, wrote in a report on the FEN deal that AT&T would succeed "because its site sponsorship is aimed primarily at parents in the home, not at children in the classroom." As schools go online, Forrester expects more family brands to benefit from carefully chosen sponsorships.

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