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The Capitol Connection Celebrates 16 Years

On December 19, 1997, the Capitol Connection marked 16 years of service as a microwave "wireless cable" instructional television system in the nation's capital. The Capitol Connection broadcasts coverage of C-SPAN, C-SPAN2, CNN, CNBC, and local Washington TV stations; the meetings of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB); and George Mason University courses for credit to government agencies, law firms, corporate representatives, trade associations, embassies, and news organizations. A service of the George Mason University Instructional Foundation, the Capitol Connection was started by Mason English professor Michael Kelley in 1981 to bring C-SPAN's coverage of Congress to Washington, D.C., offices not served by conventional cable television. This service also established a TV communications link between the legislative and executive branches of government that had never before been possible. Originally transmitting only C-SPAN's initial 12-hour daily coverage of the House of Representatives, the Capitol Connection soon added more channels and grew from its first patron subscriber to more than 1,750 patrons today who watch the programming on more than 25,000 television sets. "We don't compete with cable," Kelley says. "We complement it by bringing cable programming to office buildings that cable can't economically serve." Some of the Capitol Connection's viewers are the Washington Post, Riggs National Bank, the Housing Investment Trust, American Express, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable Television Association, the White House, the Justice Department, Consumers Union, Coors, the Embassy of Great Britain, America OnLine, Fox TV, the World Bank, General Motors, Boeing, Shell Oil, Aetna Insurance, the D.C. Control Board, Legg Mason, MCI, the Brookings Institution, Amoco Corporation, Amtrak, Bell Atlantic, and Blue Cross. In 1981, the Capitol Connection had one employee, Kelley, and one transmitter. Today, there are 16 employees, more than 20 transmitters, and 4 major transmitter sites in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The Capitol Connection's first subscriber was Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, who was so eager to get the service that he asked Kelley to temporarily install an antenna on the flag pole behind his office chair. The following week, a permanent antenna was installed on the Commerce Building roof. The Capitol Connection, through its subsidiary, F Corporation, also owns and operates the satellite uplink near SUB II on the Fairfax Campus. This commercial operation serves George Mason University, the Arlington and Fairfax public schools, Northern Virginia Community College, and such Washington clients as the FCC, FERC, the General Services Administration (GSA), Univision News, Fox TV News, and Globecast Communications, among others. The uplink, which normally charges $110 per hour, is available to the George Mason University community for $25 per hour during the work week, plus an additional $20 per hour on weekends and holidays. Funds generated annually by the Capitol Connection's operation directly support George Mason University. Since 1981, cash contributions have exceeded $1.5 million. In addition, the Instructional Foundation has purchased, has installed, and maintains two-way microwave television interconnections between the Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William Campuses, as well as one-way microwave television feeds connecting the GMU-TV Studio on the Fairfax Campus to the cable systems serving Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties. George Mason University pays nothing to use this extensive microwave infrastructure. If George Mason had to pay the Virginia Telecommunications Department's state rate for air time on these transmitters, the cost would exceed $900,000 annually. The foundation also has purchased and maintains both C-Band and Ku-Band satellite downlink antennas and receivers. These are also available during the work week at no cost for university faculty, staff, and students to view teleconferences or other specialized television programming delivered via satellite. After hours and on weekends or holidays, the cost is $20 per hour. For more information about the Capitol Connection, or to schedule a satellite uplink or downlink, contact the Capitol Connection by phone at (703) 993-3100, by fax at (703) 993-3115, by e-mail at, or on the web at

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