Do those coin-operated, electronic computer games like Space Invaders, which draw crowds of teen-agers into arcades the way the venerable pinball machine drew their parents, interfere with radio and TV reception?
Since the mid-1970s, the Federal Communications commission has worried that they would, and now it believes they do. Unlike pinball machines, the computer games send and receive radio signals.
Since October 1979, the big makers of such games, including Atari Inc., Bally Manufacturing Corp., Stern Electronics Inc. and Sega Enterprises Inc., have been on notice that, beginning Jan. 1, they would have to bring their machines to the FCC for certification based on limitation of electronic transmissions, and then label them so purchasers would know whether the device complied or not and what, if any, was the danger of the machine interfering with nearby radio reception.
Things in the electronic computer world move so fast that one year's regulatory effort hardly has time to come into effect before some new innovation passes it by. "The interference potential of present-day coin operated games may have changed from 1974-75," the FCC said in a notice published in the Dec. 19 Federal Register (page 83502). That was when the commission first started worrying about the problem, though it took five years before it got its rule out.
Now, on the eve of implementation, the commission is having second thoughts.
For one thing, Atari has worked with the Oregon State Police on a study to see if its electronic games have harmed police communications. The results, according to the FCC notice, "allegedly show that the present generation of coin-operated games poses no threat of interference to police communications."
In a Solomon-like ruling, the FCC has held off until Oct. 1, 1981, the requirement that the electronic machines must be certified for noninterference in radio signals. But it has held onto its requirement that, beginning Thursday, each coin-operated game must carry an "interim label warning that it has not been tested and may cause interference to radio and TV reception."