An electronically controlled roll towel dispenser with a data communication system. The dispenser automatically dispenses a predetermined length of paper toweling from a supply roll after a length of toweling has been detached by a user pulling and tearing the protruding toweling against a stationary cutting blade. The dispenser is battery powered with an electric motor, an electromechanical dispensing mechanism, and an embedded microcontroller for controlling and monitoring operation of the dispenser. In addition to primary control functions, the microcontroller monitors parameters such as battery condition, towel usage, system status, system errors, and unsafe operating conditions. Pushbutton switches are also provided for programming towel length and the dispense delay. The dispenser further includes an optical transmitter for transmitting visual and infrared data to a receiving device. Useful information about the status of the dispenser can be visibly discerned by an operator through the use of primitive low-speed flash patterns, while high-speed infrared digital data can be simultaneously embedded in or multiplexed with the visible data.