For 100 Manassas residents, obtaining the latest news, stock quotations, consumer-safety tips, restaurant menus and local government actions will be -- as the saying goes -- as simple as pushing a button.
After months of planning, Continental Telecom Inc. launches its first videotext experiment in Manassas next week to test how 100 consumers will react to the latest product of this electronic age.
ConTelVision Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Continental, will conduct the experiment, offering consumers the equivalent of up to 10,000 television screens full of information, ranging from news to video games to educational quizzes for elementary-school children.
"This is a little research-and-development project that we're investing a few million dollars in with the hope that someday it will be profitable," says Robert Ratonyi, Continental's vice president for corporate development.
One of nearly 40 electronic-information tests across the country, the experiment is the first in the Washington area.
Continental chose Manassas -- the most urban area it serves -- because the company felt that its location and population matched the typical videotext user.
According to market tests, Continental says the consumer most eager to use the new system is between 18 and 44 years old, has a household income of more than $25,000 a year, is a white-collar worker with at least some college education, and lives near a large city.
Each consumer will be supplied with a free terminal, with a typewriter keyboard. The terminal, which in some cases will be attached to the home television screen and in others will come with its own screen, will be connected to the phone line.
To use the system, consumers will type in their identification number and then a password. After that, they will have access to any information in the system.
This will include:
* News, including national news wires with continual updates; local news supplied by two Manassas newspapers; weather; stock quotations and sports.
* Entertainment, including video games, a dining guide (complete with sample menus), and a list of events in the Washington area such as movies and plays.
* Consumer information, including recipes and nutritional information supplied by a local grocery chain; tips on budgeting, insurance and auto repairs, and Federal Trade Commission consumer alerts.
* Transportation and travel data, such as airline schedules for the Manassas and Dulles airports, suggestions for vacations close to home and bargain vacations.
* Classified advertising for cars, real estate and jobs.
* Community information, including up-to-the-minute news about area schools -- for example, whether they are closed for snow and the lunch menu for the day -- and schedules for city council meetings.
The first phase, expected to last about six months, will be free. The second phase, scheduled to start in late 1983, will offer more services -- such as the ability to bank and shop electronically. Then consumers will have to pay.
About 500 Manassas residents who have offered to pay for the service will be selected to test the second phase.