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Dear Subscribers:

A number of new subscribers signed up this past week. Welcome, all! Good to have you with us. Here's our lineup for this third week of February:

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News Briefs

E-rate challenged (again).
We've been keeping you posted on the ups and downs of the "e-rate," the federal program that was created to help schools and libraries get connected to the Internet. Well, now an FCC commissioner has added his criticism to two separate congressional challenges to the program. According to the Association of Online Professionals, Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth is accusing "the FCC Common Carrier Bureau and the Universal Service Administrative Company of re-writing the guidelines so that more than 90% of the money went to urban districts." The latter oversees the subsidy program through its School and Libraries Division. The New York Times has all the background, including great links to all relevant parties' Web sites. As for the latest congressional salvo, the Times mentions plans by Sen. Conrad Burns (R) of Montana and Rep. Billy Tauzin (R) of Louisiana Republican to reintroduce legislation that would change the way that the program is financed. And Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona has refiled a bill that would require schools and libraries that get e-rate money to use filtering software.

Move over, H&R Block.
All those tax-preparation storefronts across the US are increasingly getting a run for their money - from the Web, of course. According to MSNBC, sites like Web TurboTax and SecureTax will soon be overtaking tax-prep computer programs. MSNBC cites a study by Forrester Research, predicting that "in only four years, more people will be preparing returns on the Web than fill out forms using tax software installed on their own PC." The IRS says last year the number of tax-filers who used software reached about 8 million. Hardly mainstream yet, but it'll get attractive as the competition brings tax-preparation costs down and convenience up! The MSNBC piece has a nice comparison chart of tax-prep Web sites.

From channel-surfing to Web-surfing.
Interesting figures on US TV-viewing in a fresh study by Yankee Group in Boston. Found in CyberAtlas, the study showed that, while 32% of US households overall were moderate-to-heavy viewers, the percentage fell to 27% among homes with PCs, to 26% among online subscribers, and to only 17% for homes that said they used their PCs everyday. Among homes reporting daily Internet usage, the percentage of moderate-to-heavy TV viewers dwindled to less than 9%. And unrelated except also from CyberAtlas this week: data from International Data Corp. showing that the number of college students enrolled in distance learning classes will reach 2.2 million by 2002, up from 710,000 last year (in percentages that'll be 15% of all higher-ed students, up from 5% in '98). As you can see, CyberAtlas is a great resource for anybody tracking how and how much the Internet is being used in US society.

Their prerogative.
Two weeks ago we reported that AOL planned to include Tupperware-type parties in its collection of marketing techniques. Well, AOL changed its mind. Not exactly a hot news item, but you're not to be misinformed! According to InternetNews.com, the company did not volunteer its reasons for the turnaround.

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City sites: two types

If your family includes small children and likes to travel, have you discovered Family.com Local? It's a service provided by Disney's Family.com and affiliated parenting and family magazines in some 104 cities throughout North America. For example, Calgary's Child features this Saturday's Winter Wonderland, with free family entertainment that includes hay rides, games, and winter crafts and - every Saturday - a Yethka Getaway 40 minutes west of Calgary, an aboriginal winter outing featuring storytelling by the elders. And from Alberta to Alabama: This week children could experience the storytelling and puppetry of Akbar Imhotep at the 19th-annual Black Heritage Festival at Birmingham's Anniston Museum of Natural History.

Meanwhile, for grown-up travelers, sightseers, and restaurant guide devotees, AOL's Digital City is definitely the favorite among online city directories. According to Business Wire, via Excite News, 4.3 million people are using Digital City sites on AOL and the Web from home every month. Its reach is great than those of Citysearch-Ticketmaster and Microsoft's Sidewalk combined. In these directories you can find everything from hotel and restaurant listings to movie reviews to church services, cultural events, and plain-old fun things to do.

Have you ever used one of these directories? Let us know which one you find most useful and why! As you know, you can always reach us at feedback@sagefamily.com.

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Spring migration

No, not spring break. For the educational side of life, among Homework Central's recent picks we found a site on flight. Journey North invites students to join scientists in tracking the great northward migration of a dozen species each spring. This year, the site says, more than 4,000 schools, representing approximately 200,000 students from 50 states and seven Canadian provinces are expected to participate. Journey North is an Annenberg/Corporation for Public Broadcasting Math & Science Project. Thanks, Homework Central!

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Caution to chatters

This week from CyberAngels' Laura Kecherson, leader of CA's volunteer Cybermoms division:

"A chat room is a 'window' of a computer program where people type, and everyone sees the responses pretty much right when the sender hits the 'Enter' key. Unwanted advances are very common in chat, where the perceived protection of the computer monitor can lower inhibitions in much the same way as does alcohol at an office party. Sometimes people will try to start an online relationship, even a romantic or sexual one. Such was the case in this situation:

"We know of a woman - we'll call her Carol (not her real name) - who went into the same chat room several times a week. She enjoyed the chats, which were often about parenting and household tips.

"A man followed Carol from chat room to chat room, asking her personal questions and attempting sexual advances. He would not accept 'no' for an answer. Instead of respecting her wish to be left alone, the man continued the contact. Common sense might tell us to shut off the computer at that point. To put the unwanted contact out of our mind. After all, it's only a computer. That's exactly what Carol did. And then she got email from him, although she had never given him, or anyone else in a chat room her real email address. Understandably frightened, Carol closed her email account immediately. Luckily, she has not heard from the man since.

"What can one do to avoid such a situation? Clearly, one should never give out any personal information Online. Over time, small details can add up to enough information to find a person in real life. Online predators commonly take the time to build up trust for as long as it takes to find out their victim's identities, often 'working' several potential victims at a time.

"Remember, the Internet is not just a window for us to view the world, it's also a door into our own homes. Take the same kinds of precautions with strangers online that you would with meeting a stranger from a personal ad. Whether or not you intend to meet your online contacts in real life, be as careful with your personal information as you would in any real-life situation with strangers."

[Material supplied by our partners, CyberAngels, reflects their views, not necessarily those of The Sage Family. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us.]

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A subscriber writes

In response to our news item about free PCs last week, subscriber Barbara Lundin wrote us:

"I filled out the form for a free PC just now. The things they asked to fill out they probably knew already. It's only basic questions. I don't care in the least if there is advertising.... Goodness. I would have a free PC!

"...for my children's education and use and for our enjoyment (and believe me, someone is always on the computer in my home). I personally think it is a great thing they are doing and I would be appreciative of the gift!

Thanks, Barbara. Subscriber feedback is always welcome - and published, when we receive permission.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend.

Sincerely,

Net Family News



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