Washington -- The Federal Communications Commission voted
last week to allow wireless cable operators to offer two-way data services.
Separately, the FCC voted to relax a closed-captioning rule
for new cable networks, giving some of them an additional two years before they must begin
captioning services to assist hearing-impaired viewers.
The FCC ruled that wireless operators may provide
high-speed, two-way data services, including Internet access, to augment their
FCC officials said the two-way authority will permit
wireless cable operators to offer Internet access at speeds 100 times faster than
integrated services digital network's speed of 128 kilobits per second.
The FCC said wireless operators could combine 6-megahertz
channels to create superchannels for broadband purposes. The rules will allow wireless
operators to use their entire spectrum for data, meaning that they can choose to cease
video operations altogether.
FCC commissioner Susan Ness said the agency's action
"should reinvigorate the wireless cable business."
Walter Ciciora, a cable consultant, said cable operators
will have a technical advantage over wireless access to the Internet because cable systems
are able to subdivide nodes to ensure that data rates do not diminish as more subscribers
log on to the network.
"In the broadcast environment, there is a limit on
what you can do in that regard," Ciciora said.
On closed-captioning, the National Cable Television
Association said it was concerned that the FCC's decision to require the captioning
of 30 percent of library programming as of Jan. 1, 2003, could drive up compliance costs.
In the past, the NCTA has argued that costs associated with the captioning of old movies
and TV programs could make it unaffordable to televise them.
The FCC also made several changes to the closed-captioning
rules that were adopted last year. Although the rules took effect Jan. 1, 1998, the
six-year phase-in toward full captioning does not begin until the first quarter of 2000.
Under the new rules, a cable network that had not reached
its fourth anniversary by Jan. 1, 1998, will have a four-year captioning exemption
starting from that date.
The exemption under the old rules expired four years from
launch. Start-up cable networks The Golf Channel, Outdoor Life Network and Speedvision --
the exemptions of which were to expire in 1999 and 2000 -- told the FCC that they needed
more time to shoulder the financial burdens of captioning.
When the new exemption expires Jan. 1, 2002, new cable
networks must be captioning 50 percent of their "new" programming, or
programming that was created after Jan. 1, 1998.
Under the old rule, new networks with an expired four-year
exemption would have been required to caption 25 percent of their new programming
beginning in January 2000.