WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission sent a strong message yesterday that it will push for expanded competition in telecommunications as it granted permission for Bell Atlantic Corp. to transmit television programs over its lines on a commercial basis in Dover Township, N.J.
The unanimous FCC decision makes the Philadelphia-based phone company the first telephone company with regulatory approval to offer "video dial tone" on anything but a trial basis.
Brushing aside objections from the National Cable Television Association, the FCC ruled that Bell Atlantic's proposal would promote the public interest by bringing competition and broader choices to the monopoly-dominated cable TV business.
The FCC approval does not address the question of whether Bell Atlantic can provide its own programming -- something it is seeking in pending video dial tone applications. In this filing, the company asked only for permission to act as a carrier for third-party programmers.
FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, meeting with reporters yesterday, said Bell Atlantic's initial customer, FutureVision of America Corp. of West Conshohocken, Pa., had told the commission it intends to charge about 20 percent less than its incumbent cable competitors initially and could eventually offer its basic programming free as a loss leader for advanced services.
The service will initially be offered to about 38,000 homes in Dover Township, which lies in Ocean County around Toms River. Service is expected to begin in early 1995.
Bell Atlantic's video service, to be transmitted through a network of fiber-optic cable and coaxial cable, will start with up to 64 FutureVision channels and be expanded through software compression techniques to 384 digital channels by the beginning of the year.
Bob Schena, president of FutureVision, said yesterday that his company will offer "everything that people are getting now" plus interactive services. Eventually, he said, his company hopes to offer programming in Maryland and other parts of the country.
"Wherever there are two-way interactive networks, at some point we're going to show up," he said.