The Federal Communications Commission Thursday proposed letting the nation's local telephone companies provide TV service to their customers, potentially creating direct competition for cable companies.
Under a proposal tentatively endorsed by the five-member commission, phone companies such as Bell Atlantic Corp. would be permitted to operate TV transmission systems - such as fiber-optic lines or cables - but would be prevented from owning the TV programs carried on them. Instead, the phone companies would be required to offer channel space to whomever was willing to pay for it, such as existing broadcast stations, or cable networks such as ESPN.The plan, which was proposed by FCC Chairman Alfred C. Sikes, is similar to the manner in which phone companies now provide an open line on their telephone networks to any individual or business.
Although it does not specify which type of technology phone companies should use to deliver TV service, Sikes's proposal is designed to encourage the phone industry to create networks of fiber-optic lines that would carry not just TV signals but voice and computer data as well. Fiber-optic wires are tiny strands of ultra-fine glass that have virtually unlimited capacity for carrying all of these bits of information. The copper coaxial wires used by cable operators have more limited capacity.
A network of fiber-optic wires reaching into American homes could replace current phone and cable TV lines, and could revolutionize the way people receive entertainment and information. Coupled with other technologies, a fiber-optic network would make many new services available, such as ``interactive' TV programs and ``picture phones.'