Digital Broadcasting Corporation of McLean will offer the first low-class computer time-sharing network designed for home and household use early in 1979.
A computer time-share network allows customers access to useful information and computer programs stored in a central computer; the computer serves as an electronic library for the customer.
While most computer time-sharing customers are businesses, DBC believes that its new system offers an array of computer programs and information at such a low price that the home computer terminal will be an economic reality by the end of next year. They hope to have their system servicing the Washington area by April.
An advertising campaign for the system, tentatively called Compucom, is scheduled to begin in January with television, radio and newspaper advertisments already planned.
The key virtue of the proposed service is its low cost: the customer is charged only $2.75 per hour of computer time which is five to ten times cheaper than commercially available time share systems. However, a consumer may only use the computer at this cost at off-peak hours - between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. weekends and holidays.
DBC has an undisclosed number of Prime and Honeywell computers with thousands of time-share ports for computer access prepared to meet the consumer demand.
Of course, a customer must have a computer terminal with which to communicate with the central computer which DBC will sell for $595. However, other computer terminals with telephone interface ability, ranging in cost from $300 to more than $1,000 are also compatible with the system as are suitably modified microprocessor based home computers currently being sold.
As DBC plans it, a Compucom user would dail a toll-free number and link up his terminal to the central time share computers. He would then have access to the more than 1,800 computer programs currently on file in the system. The programs range from games like Star Trek and Hammurabi to financial palnning, accounting and text editing systems.
DBC is negotiating with a number of time-sharing facilities to obtain marketable software. One source for computer programs will be Dartmouth College's Kiewit Computer Center in Hanover, New Hampshire. Kiewit is a leader in developing simple interactive computer programs for time sharing systems. Eugene Fucci, an associate director of Kiewit, asserts, "The DBC system is going to be big because the network approach is the answer."
The network approach that DBC offers will provide such options as electronic mail for all users of the system, as well as classified ads. Also, conference calling through the terminal will be available. Individuals may store and transmit text through the system.
William Von Meister, chief executive officer of DBC, sees Compucom as an information utility service.
"We want information to come out of Compucan like water comes out of a faucet," says Von Meister.
Consequently, DBC is negotiating with a number of publishers to broaden that data base that Compucon will provide. DBC has contracts with Prentice-Hall for the Federal Tax Guide, with local personality Davey Marlin Jones for entertainment reviews, and with others that DBC will not reveal.
Ultimately, DBC hopes to become an information bank for more thant 200 cities nationwide.
"It's a tremendously exiting idea," says Kathy Criner, a program analyst for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, "and it is directly competitive with the British Viewdata and Teletex system."
But Criner expresses reservations about DBC's ability to index the massive quantities of information that it hopes to provide its customers in an easy and convenient fashion.
Jack Taub, Chairman of the Board of Scott Publishing (which publishes Scott's Catalog, the Bible of stamp collectors) who is director of DBC and handles the marketing of Compucom says, "This is going to be like a quarterpounder with cheese - something everyone can handle."
Taub believes that DBC will have 10,000 customers by the end of the first year of operations and will reach a break-even point for the initial investment within six months of start-up.