in January 1979. Opinion and “Hi-OVIS wide” programs
sought to build community. The daytime programs presumably were aimed at housewives and children, with evening
programs for working adults. Typically
about 25 to 30 of the 158 households
( 15 to 20 percent) tuned in to Hi-OVIS
local programs when they were running,
but because they were broadcast only a
small fraction of the day, subscribers spent
many more hours a week tuned to the
television channels carried by Hi-OVIS.
Participation in the two-way services
came more slowly, despite strong encouragement from staff. Subscribers were
particularly slow to go on camera and
produce their own programs, complaining
of shyness when asked by staff members.
Many never did go on camera, but gradually they grew accustomed to the system,
and it became a part of the community
and a subject of conversation in itself.
“With the advent of this new medium,
community consciousness has been rising
in the Higashi-Ikoma system,” Kawahata
wrote in 1980. Surveys after it was shut down show that
residents missed it.
At first the system was a new toy, producing an initial surge
of requests for still images, followed by a decline. Yet after a few
months, subscribers still requested a few thousand still images a
week, with more than half character-generated. The single most
common request was to show train schedules, followed by a
guide to Hi-OVIS. Videos shown at fixed times on a dedicated
Hi-OVIS channel were requested a few thousand times a week.
A separate test of video-on-demand service from a small
library of cassette tapes was initially overwhelmed with requests,
but demand dropped quickly because only a handful of tape
decks were available. Children quickly figured out how to
make requests, and literally wore out tapes of some of their
favorite cartoons, playing some more than 500 times. Pro-
gram managers did not replace the worn-out tapes, thinking
that children should watch more edu-
cational videos. Overall, men’s favorite
videos were golf lessons, and women’s
were cooking programs.
In its later years, Hi-OVIS shifted
away from a visionary quest to build local
communities toward more pragmatic tests
of business prospects for the new services.
Local programs were cut back to an hour
a day, and some channels were leased to
businesses that transmitted infomercials.
Fiber to the farm in Canada
Canada blazed a very different and far less expensive trail
when it opened the world’s second major fiber-to-the-home
trail in June 1981. The goal was to see if fibers could bring
advanced telecommunications services to highly productive
agricultural areas. Canada’s Department of Communications
and the government-owned Manitoba Telephone picked 150
homes in and around Elie, Manitoba—a tiny town 50 km
west of Winnipeg.
42 | OPN Optics & Photonics News