The Federal Communications Commission yesterday authorized broadcasters to transmit written messages and graphic data to the nation's television viewers.
The 5-to-2 FCC vote gives all licensed television broadcasters the right to provide teletext services, with minimum federal regulation.
The vote signals a major expansion of information power for the nation's telecommunications industry and, in that regard, is expected to increase competition among organizations already scrambling to cash in on the new technology.
Teletext information is transmitted using a blank space--the so-called vertical blanking interval--in the television signal. That space exists in the normal gaps between television picture transmissions.
Teletext messages include textual information, such as a community service bulletin or narrative weather report, and data information, such as stock quotes and sports scores. Closed captioning, in which subtitles are added to television programs and displayed to viewers, is another example of teletext.
Individual viewers need a special decoding device--available in some national retail chains, such as Sears, Roebuck & Co.--to unscramble and receive teletext signals.
In the Washington area, Channel 26 (WETA), the public television station, has been experimenting with teletext formats since January 1981.
CBS Broadcasting Group has announced it will begin teletext broadcasts later this year.
Under yesterday's FCC authorization, stations can start or stop offering teletext services without notifying the commission. Stations carrying the service do not have to maintain teletext program logs.
Also, under the authorization, public television stations would be allowed to offer teletext services on a profit-making basis.
The idea, the FCC majority said, is to give the technology the truest marketplace test possible.
In another major action yesterday, the FCC voted for the first time in its 49-year history to use lotteries to grant low-power-television and other kinds of transmission licenses. The new practice is supposed to speed up the licensing process by doing away with lengthy hearings conducted to examine qualifications of applicants for licenses in the same markets.
For example, the FCC has an estimated 12,000 applications for low-power-television (LPTV) stations, which have a broadcast range of 10 to 12 miles. But only 330 of the applications have been approved by the commission since last year, when the FCC officially approved the creation of LPTV systems.
But the FCC yesterday ran into a wall of confusion on its way to simplify the licensing process, largely because of congressional requirements that minorities, who are underrepresented in the broadcast industry, be given a better chance to obtain licenses.
The FCC is attempting to meet the congressional mandate by developing a computer program that would effectively give minorities a better chance at entering the lottery pool, from which winners would be selected randomly.
But women, who were not mentioned in the congressional remedy, so far are being kept out of the pool. That exclusion brought protests from the FCC's two women commissioners, Anne P. Jones and Mimi Weyforth Dawson, who said women are just as underrepresented as minorities in the broadcast industry.
But the men on the bench were undaunted. The law was the law, they said, and in this particular instance, Congress either forgot or chose not to include women.
FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler allowed as how he didn't like the idea of race or sex preferences at all.
Preferences for individuals "who have not suffered from illegal discrimination" work to "the disadvantage of innocent non-preferred individuals," Fowler said. The chairman also expressed his "resolute opposition to any form of racial discrimination."