|by James L. Morrison
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1992, 1(3), 8-9. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
The Federal Communications
Commission has decided to allow telephone companies to carry television signals on phone
lines. The new technology, which allows huge amounts of information to be transmitted
instantly, will permit a variety of new services. This would make universal access to new,
high-speed computer networks a reality. Currently, transmitting information contained in a
single still from a color-television show through a standard telephone wire takes minutes.
To deliver these services, standard copper wire used in the current telephone system will
be replaced with fiber-optics cable. Although the fiber-optic cable initially installed is
expected to deliver television signals, those same lines can provide nationwide linkage
between higher education institutions. [Wilson, D. L. (1992, July 29). Host of new college
services could follow plan to allow TV signals on phone lines. The Chronicle of Higher
Education, pp. A13-14.]
President Clinton is pressing for a nationwide fiber-optic communications infrastructure.
The FCC decision will render Clinton's plan much more cost-effective and will accelerate
its implementation. Thus, colleges and universities will more easily share information and
library holdings sooner than originally expected.
The fiber-optic infrastructure network
will enable institutions to reach into any home or office that has telecommunications
capabilities, thereby enabling a tremendous growth in distance learning and much greater
potential for reaching populations who have difficulty attending traditional classes.
Because of the breakup of the Bell
system, some areas in the U.S. have greater opportunities to take advantage of this
technology than others. If your phone company is not installing the electronic equivalent
to "on and off ramps" to the electronic superhighway, your institution could
literally be bypassed.