This year, 7,300 Russian schools will start accessing the Internet through satellite connections provided by Germantown-based Hughes Network Systems, company executives said yesterday.

Hughes was awarded a $10 million contract by the Russian Ministry of Education to provide its DirecWay Internet infrastructure -- its satellite dishes, ground stations and network operations centers -- to substantially all Moscow area schools, including kindergarten through secondary grades, said Arunas Slekys, vice president and general manager of business in Russia and new independent states for Hughes. Each of the schools has 500 to 1,000 students, who will use the technology to access the Internet in the classrooms, he said.

The contract represents HNS's slice of a $2.6 billion initiative by the Russian government to boost Internet usage and e-commerce over eight years, Slekys said. HNS plans to bid on more contracts in six other regions with more than 50,000 schools, he said.

Crosna, a Russian telecommunications provider, is working with HNS to install the satellite systems in the schools, starting in the first quarter of this year.

"The importance of the deal to us is that it opens up that region," Slekys said. HNS plans to pursue similar opportunities this year, focusing on international customers in regions where the availability of the Internet through land lines is limited, he said.

HNS, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hughes Electronics Corp., already has a contract to supply high-speed Internet access to about 1,000 schools in the Netherlands. It plans to pursue similar deals, particularly with large enterprise customers, in China, Korea and throughout Europe, he said.

With more than 160,000 residential subscribers to its DirecWay system in the United States, and more than 500 corporate clients using more than 400,000 terminals worldwide, Hughes is the largest provider of satellite Internet services.

HNS employs more than 3,000 people in the Washington area and generated about $1.2 billion in revenue last year.