The broadcasting ban imposed on BT in 1991 could be lifted by the new government in return for linking schools to the Internet, as originally outlined by Labour leader Tony Blair in 1995.
In its 1997 manifesto, Labour said it would endorse the House of Commons' Trade and Industry Select Committee?s proposal to allow ?gradual entry by BT and others into full competition in the entertainment market?.
This would mean lifting the ban imposed in a White Paper in 1991, which prevents BT from broadcasting entertainment services over its network. Oftel had been scheduled to review the ban in 1998, while the previous government had promised the ban would be lifted in 2002.
However, a total ban would deter investment, already begun by cable operators, in local access infrastructure, warned David Harrington, director general of the Telecommunications Managers Association (TMA). The restriction on BT has paved the way for cable companies to flourish in this area, the most notable competitive force being Cable & Wireless Communications, which pulls together Mercury with Bell Cablemedia and Nynex Cable Comms.
A BT spokesperson said it was ?premature? to discuss whether the ban would be lifted. However, an industry source noted that it was strange that BT has never outlined exactly how it would link up schools if it were given the right the broadcast over its networks.
On the other hand, BT is close to announcing a deal with BSkyB to create an interactive TV system using the satellite operator?s network (see separate story today).
A spokesperson for the Cable Communications Association said a lifting of BT?s ban would be less significant than it would have been in 1995 because many cable companies have already made provisions. He said: ?It is important to point out that Labour said it would 'relax progressively' because it doesn?t want to be seen as writing a blank cheque to BT.?
He said Labour has assured the cable industry that it is keen to promote fair competition and protect against abuses. This would ensure continued investment in infrastructure by cable operators, such as local access networks, continued the spokesperson.
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