Reese Schonfeld wants more television in the household. More information. More of just about everything promised by fiber-optics technology. But instead of the limited private networks used by businesses and others, Mr. Schonfeld wants the United States to build a public network, linking every American household. The implications are staggering. Imagine:
Dialing up the Library of Congress to get the text of any book you wanted, supplementing your reading with actual newsreels or recordings of a particular event.
Ordering directly from a major movie studio any movie they ever made - then having it displayed on your television when you want it.
Attending a university course at home - not just watching a lecture on television but interacting with the professor through two-way video, sending homework and taking tests through the fiber-optic network. The same kind of interaction could be used on educational TV programs for children.
``Fiber has yet to make it to even one of your gubernatorial residences, much less to the average American home,'' Schonfeld told the Midwestern Governors' Conference held in Milwaukee earlier this month. He is president of Opt In America, an advocacy group that is pushing for the technology. ``The technology is there. But the commitment is not.''
The issue is controversial, because the technology involves a basic decision to use telephone companies to operate the network. That move would require major regulatory changes and allow telephone companies to bypass the networks built up by the cable industry.
Such a network would be expensive to build: at least $400 billion to hook up US households. A hybrid of telephone's fiber network with cable's coaxial network would do just as much, says Tom Gillett, former head of operations for GTE's fiber-optics experiments. That would require a strategic alliance between the two industries.