In 1970, an employe of the British Post Office named Sam Fedida had an idea on how to make information more accessible to the general public.
His plan was simple - to use existing telephone lines for transmitting a variety of data into British homes, for display on a modified television set.
The BPO has now transformed Fedida's idea into a $45 million venture called Viewdata. Market tests of this unusual information retrieval system are scheduled to begin with 1,500 users drawing on over 300,000 "pages"of information in Britain inJune and general service will start early in 1979.
Viewdata is now on its way to the United States. Insac Group Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the U.K. National Enterprise Board, has been awarded a license for the marketing Viewdata in the U.S. Insac representatives are in Washington, showing off their product at the National Information Conference and Exposition at the Sheraton Park hotel.
"Something like Viewdata makes you realize how starved we are for information," said Robert T. Quinn, managing consultant for Insac with responsibility for getting Viewdata started in the U.S.
While the focus in Britain is on the home market, Insac will be going after the business sector here. "Everything is right for it," said Quinn. "By the late '80s or '90s we're going to have a mass information system like Viewdata."
Quinn said that Insac is now looking for an American partner "to run with it."
The U.S. partner would manufacture hardware, including the adapter or "chip" which would tie the user into a databank via the telephone.
Quinn estimates that the total cost for an adapter unit could be as low as $100, with an average cost of $1 for each hour of use.