FCC dishes up rules for new video service--direct-broadcast satellite

Rooftop dish antennas that draw a dizzying array of new TV channels into the living room have came a step closer to widespread use.

The Federal Communcations Commission (FCC) approved rules Wednesday for direct-broadcast satellite.

So-called DBS uses high-power communication satellites to beam a TV signal to a backyard or rooftop dish about 30 inches in diameter. Programming is expected to look a lot like today's cable pay TV - sports events, film classics, popular concerts, children's shows, and public affairs.

The difference is that DBS will come straight from the program source instead of being sent through a commercial or cable network and local station affiliate.

Although some industry observers say this is no threat to the broadcasting industry, others see in it a potential for heating up the already fierce competition that exists for video viewers.

Although the FCC vote to move ahead with the service was unanimous, Commissioner James Quello was concerned that the new technology could weaken the broadcasting industry's firm base in local programming. The same concern has been raised by current broadcasting industry powers, including the National Association of Broadcasters, commercial networks, and independent stations. The NAB, especially, has been fighting direct-broadcast satellites every step of the way.

Mr. Quello says the system may weaken the broadcasting industry foundation in serving community needs - he says that cannot be done from a satellite. At least , it is likely to change the face and foundation of the industry, moving it into the direction of serving narrower interests.

Current estimates show that with monthly fees and initial purchase of the $ 100 antenna, DBS will cost more than cable to provide about the same programming. But companies planning to offer DBS say their markets, at least at first, will be mostly rural homes and areas not yet served by cable TV.

But Satellite Television Corporation, the leader in this development, will also be offering:

* Teletext, or printed material on the TV screen, that may include news, weather, and stock reports.

* Stereophonic sound, captions for the hearing impaired, and second-language broadcast.

CBS, a major commercial network, wants to offer high-definition TV, or HDTV, an even more advanced technology which gives a sharper picture with brighter color, stereo sound, and a wide-screen format. CBS also proposes to carve out a new form of supplying movies - beaming the films directly to theater audiences, doing away with conventional celluloid movie prints. HDTV will not be ready for perhaps 10 years.

HDTV could be picked up on a conventional TV set, but only a specially designed set could take advantage of its increased clarity.

CBS estimates a new set would cost about 25 percent more than a regular one. But HDTV is in even earlier stages of development than conventional DBS, and will not be ready for perhaps 10 years.

Wednesday's nod of approval by the FCC will be followed by consideration of proposals from nine companies that are chafing to move ahead with the fledgling technology.

Florence Setzer of the FCC said the final go-ahead can be expected by early fall. But that timetable may ultimately be affected by an international conference scheduled for 1983 that will parcel out microwave frequencies to Western Hemisphere countries.

The FCC decision did not solve the problem of what to do with terrestial microwave users who now communicate on the band of frequencies that will be used for DBS broadcast.

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