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Issue No.03 - July-September (2006 vol.28)
pp: 41-47
Christopher H. Sterling , George Washington University
Digital teletext/videotex services enjoyed a decades-long heyday in Europe, and only recently have largely given way to the far more capable Internet. But neither service succeeded in the US. This article assesses multiple reasons behind the American failure to adopt this technology, some of which apply to today's digital services.
Ceefax, FCC, policy, Minitel, standards, Telidon, Teletext, Videotex
Christopher H. Sterling, "Pioneering Risk: Lessons from the US Teletext/Videotex Failure", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.28, no. 3, pp. 41-47, July-September 2006, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2006.54
1. L. Graziplene, Teletext: Its Promise and Demise, Lehigh Univ. Press, 2000. Graziplene worked with CBS in the early 1980s in innovating teletext, so wrote to some extent based on his inside experience. See also "Teletext Then and Now," which offers a useful timeline and illustrations of typical pages and promotional materials:
2. Eventually, these efforts resulted in the teletext service BBC Ceefax. For details, see /.
3. "Teletext Then and Now";
4. Prestel 1980, [British] Post Office Telecommunications, 1980.
5. Videotex and Teletext in the US and UK, pamphlet, Financial Times Media Intelligence Unit, Jan. 1985, p. 7.
6. L. Graziplene, Teletext: Its Promise and Demise, p. 22; J. Tydeman et al., , Teletext and Videotex in the United States: Market Potential, Technology, Public Policy Issues, McGraw-Hill, 1982, p. 14.
7. Videotex and Teletext in the US and UK, p. 11.
8. Among them were S. Money, Teletext and Viewdata, Butterworth, 1979; J. Martin, Viewdata and the Information Society, Prentice-Hall, 1982; R. Veith, Television's Teletext, North-Holland, 1983; and A. Alber, Videotext/Teletext: Principles and Practices, McGraw-Hill, 1985.
9. For just one American example, see G. Arlen ed., International Videotex Teletext News, Arlen Comm. This newsletter appeared monthly for the years 1980–1987.
10. See, for the English translation, S. Nora and A. Minc, The Computerization of Society: A Report to the President of France, MIT Press, 1980. This period and its context is well described in A.L. Fletcher, "Videotex, the Internet, and Innovation in France and the United States," Antenna: Newsletter of the Mercurians, in the Society for the History of Technology, vol. 12, no. 2, 2000, pp. 3–4.
11. L. Graziplene, Teletext: Its Promise and Demise, pp. 34–35.
12. See France's Experience with the Minitel: Lessons for Electronic Commerce Over the Internet, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1998.
13. D. McGrath, "Minitel: The Old New Thing," Wired, vol. 9, no. 4, 18 Apr. 2001; available at http:/ news/technology/0,1282,42943,00.html.
14. Analog broadcast television systems are based on either 625 interlaced scanning lines that make up their video signal, or, in the Americas and Japan, 525 scanning lines. These differences grew out of the 50-Hz and 60-Hz electrical systems used in different parts of the world, as well as the fact that the 625-line systems were developed later (the 1950s) than the 525-line systems (late 1930s).
15. The SECAM analog color television system was developed in France, PAL in Germany, and both vied for acceptance as the 625-line world's color standard, alongside NTSC color used on 525-line systems. For background, see R.J. Crane, The Politics of International Standards: France and the Color TV War, Ablex, 1979.
16. Ibid., p. 23.
17. "CBS Premiers On-Air Testing of Extravision Teletext Services," CBS Broadcast Group press release, 8 Apr. 1981, p. 3.
18. World System Teletext: A Unique Opportunity from Zenith, Zenith Electronics, nd (but 1985).
19. Videotex and Teletext in the US and UK, p. 26.
20. For one example from Predicasts, a Cleveland-based firm, see Videotex and Teletext in the US and UK, p. 31.
21. Broadcasting is one obvious exception because of its need for spectrum access, a process controlled by governments the world over. Thus the technical basics of radio and television have been administered by the federal government virtually from the beginning of those services.
22. Exactly the same thing would happen with digital television, though in this case, the US government played a stronger, though still not central role. Indeed, when DARPA attempted to plow funding into high-definition television research (thinking of military applications), the agency was soon reined back into place (the director was reassigned) away from any hint of centralized planning and funding.
23. As one example, see L.R. Bloom et al., Videotex Systems and Services, Nat'l Telecommunications and Information Administration, NTIA Report 80-50, Oct. 1980.
24. J. Tydeman, Teletext and Videotex in the United States: Market Potential, Technology, Public Policy Issues, p. 15. AT&T was moving closer to a trial on the merits of the US Justice Department's 1974 antitrust suit, which tended to make them more cautious as well.
25. Under the provisions of the 1982 Modified Final Judgment, the legal agreement that bound the parties and ended the decade-long antitrust case against AT&T, the former AT&T providers of local telephone service were banned from providing competitive services, including so-called information or enhanced services.
26. See, for example, C. Sterling, "The FCC and Changing Technological Standards," J. Comm., vol. 32, no. 4, 1982, pp. 137–147, which, though it focuses on AM stereo, makes points applicable to the case at hand.
27. L. Graziplene, Teletext: Its Promise and Demise, p. 118.
28. D. Stoller, "Testing the Waters," Cablevision,18 Apr. 1983, pp. 110–123.
29. "Teletext and Videotex: Jockeying for Position in the Information Age: Special Report," Broadcasting,28 June 1982, pp. 37–49.
30. Videotex and Teletext in the US and UK, p. 37.
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