Having failed to solve the problems of the Appalachian poor by land and water, the federal government has decided to try from outer space.
With pomp and ceremony normally accorded Hollywood openings, three federal agencies yesterday launched a multimillion dollar effort that they claimed will show that satellite communications can "alleviate" many of Appalachia's social and economic ills."
The hour-long ceremony was timed in accord with the opening, in two weeks, of Senate appropriations hearings on one of the agencies, the National Institute of Education (NIE). The ceremony cost $7,000. The presentation featrued Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Public Works Committee, which oversees another of the agencies, the Appalachian Regional Commision (ARC).
Randolph and a parade official spokesman for NIE, ARC and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the third agency involved, praised the project, which involves beaming television programs via satellite to nurses, government leaders, teachers and medical trainees in 60 sites in the 13 Appalachian states, as "unique, cooperative" ". . . very exciting" and "a project that will hurdle time and space."
But at least one congressman, Rep. Tim Lee Carter (R-Ky), was unimpressed. "It's a moondoggle, a complete waste of money," he said in an interview. "Satellites can be extremely useful in some areas, like Alaska. But we're no longer isolated in Eastern Kentucky. Those people at NASA and NIE would have you think we're still back in the horse and buggy days.
The new, $3 million project expands an earlier NASA satellite program to beam graduate-level education programs to Alaska and areas in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. An NIE-commissioned evaluation of that program, in which 1,200 teachers took part, concluded that the same classes could have been conducted far cheaper by other means. "Satellite delivery systems must involve a large number of students, or theycost too much," the evaluation said.