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BT gets its broadcasting licence

The telco insists that it has no immediate plans to become a broadcaster, because it is still concentrating on getting broadband out
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

The Independent Television Commission (ITC) has awarded a broadcasting licence to BT, in a move that could eventually see the telco using its network to transmit television and video to large numbers of customers.

BT applied for the licence in November 2001, and heard from the ITC on Tuesday that it had been successful. The licence will allow the firm to provide a full range television and related services over telephone networks and broadband cable. BT insists, though, that it isn't planning to become a fully fledged broadcaster in the near future.

"As Sir Christopher Bland [BT's chairman] has already said, our priorities lie elsewhere at the moment -- with broadband, for example," a BT spokesman told ZDNet. "Broadcasting is something we're interested in from a more medium-term perspective," he added.

According to the ITC, BT is planning a broadcasting trial involving 3,000 homes. BT explained that it hasn't yet decided when or where this trial will take place, but insisted there was no truth in suggestions that there is confusion between itself and the ITC over this issue.

BT offers a range of different broadband products. Its consumer broadband package provides speeds of 512kbps, which would not be fast enough to support video streaming. BT already provides 1mpbs and 2mbps services to business users, so it could easily offer faster ADSL speeds to home users in the future.

Home Choice already uses BT's network to provide television -- including video-on-demand -- to customers who pay between £6 and £18 per month, depending on the package they choose.

Some observers believe, though, that ADSL is unsuitable for broadcasting because the amount of bandwidth each viewer enjoys will decrease as more people use the service at the same time. It could be uneconomical for BT to upgrade its network to such a level that almost all its customers could watch TV over the Internet at the same time.

Comments made by Sir Christopher Bland -- a former chairman of the BBC -- in January were interpreted as meaning that BT was planning an aggressive strategy to compete with the likes of Sky, who both create and broadcast content. The stock market reacted badly to this suggestion, with some analysts suggesting that BT would do better to concentrate on its existing business, and Bland later assured investors that BT was unlikely to start making its own programmes.

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