The Federal Communications Commission yesterday approved a plan by Washington-based Comsat to provide direct international television service to the three national television networks and other foreign networks.

The unanimous decision is a major step in opening up competition between American Telephone & Telegraph Co., the International Record Carriers and Comsat in satellite television service.

The decision also provides guidelines for Comsat's proposed involvement as a provider of direct television services, a plan the company recently announced.

FCC Chairman Charles Ferris said the FCC's decision will not permit companies that use satellites to determine whether they should broker international transmissions through a carrier to develop their own programming systems.

"I welcome this decision, for it allows those purchasing the service greater choice, based on traditional marketplace factors of price and service," Ferris said. "The result should be a more efficient system of inbound and outbound international television service for our country."

Comsat's competitors argued that the proposal would allow Comsat to price satellite services at the same rates as are currently asked and would be predatory and discriminatory.

Those companies, including AT&T and RCA, said the plan could result in cross subsidies and possibly would provide Comsat with a satellite market monopoly.