F.C.C. Decreases Television Channels for Educational Use
Washington--The Federal Communications Commission (fcc) has voted to reduce the number of "microwave" television channels that are automatically reserved for educational programming and to allocate some channels by lottery.
Last month's 5-to-0 decision includes a "grandfather clause" and will not affect programs already in place. But industry officials said the ruling would hamper the chances for what they said could be a period of rapid growth in the next decade for the channels that receive over-the-air transmission.
The number of students who use the educational channels could triple by 1990 if all of the frequencies are reserved for schools and colleges, said Henry R. McCarty, president of the National Instructional Telecommunications Council.
The fcc action reduces from 28 to 20 the number of channels reserved for the broadcasting of instructional programs over distances of up to 30 miles. The other frequencies will be allocated by a lottery, with the stipulation that the firms winning the channels may not interfere with educational programs.
James H. Quello, an fcc commissioner, voted for the changes but suggested that they might have a negative effect on education.
"I am concerned that the commission is not adequately taking into consideration the educational community's future needs for this spectrum as this nation moves into the information age," he wrote in his opinion.
A 1982 survey by the Center for Excellence, a research and television-programming organization, found that 83 regions have established programming for the educational channels and 16 others are developing such programming. A total of 626 channels are now in use.
More than 5 million students were exposed to the programming in 1982, compared with 4 million in 1980, the survey found. Of those stu-dents with access to the programming last year, 3.6 million were in public schools, 994,000 were in private schools, 434,000 were in colleges or universities, and 40,000 were in medical schools.
Proponents of the policy change argued that many of the channels reserved for education were not used and should be turned over to private businesses.
Change Was Necessary
An official of Multi-Point Distribution System Industry Association said the change was necessary to enable microwave carriers to compete with cable television. "I don't think there was any aim to deprive education of any channels," said Bonnie Guthrie, an administrator with the group of commercial operators.
The development of educational programming varies greatly, but large cities usually make the most use of the channels. A great majority of the channels are being used in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston.
The cost of setting up equipment such as satellite dishes and television receivers, and of developing programs has crimped the use of the stations, said Charles Tepfer, the publisher of a television-industry newsletter. Mr. Tepfer said an investment of $40,000 to $50,000 was usually required to launch a system.
"While not tremendous, the costs are large for educational institutions," he said. The potential for the medium is great, he said, because it is inexpensive when compared to the use of video tapes.
Microband Corporation of America and Contemporary Communications, the largest microwave-channel carriers, have in the last 10 years requested more channels from the fcc The Columbia Broadcasting System joined Contemporary Communications in its request.
The decision will be published in the Federal Register before the end of the month, an fcc official said. Comments about how the lottery should take place are due 75 days after publication, the official said.