Auction of BBC transmission services aims to raise pounds 250m

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The BBC will this week finalise plans for the privatisation of its transmission services, prior to an auction aimed at raising as much as pounds 250m.

An information sales memorandum has been produced and will be sent to potential buyers as early as tomorrow. According to informed sources, it details which of the corporation's extensive transmission-related facilities will be available for sale. These are thought to include the main transmitters as well as back-up facilities and satellite uplinks. However, a large-scale telecoms operation, including broadband links between BBC offices in London and the North, may not be part of the sale.

The privatisation is expected to generate considerable interest in the broadcasting and facilities market in the UK. Among likely bidders are Racal, the telecommunications, defence and electronics giant, and International CableTel, the US-owned cable operator that earlier this year bought NTL, the country's leading private-sector transmission company. There is also the prospect of a management buyout, with venture capital backing. Other possible buyers are BT, Carlton Communications and Pearson, which are already involved to varying degrees in the transmission business.

The sale marks the first time that a part of the massive BBC infrastructure has been sold to the private sector. The corporation agreed to the privatisation in order to concentrate its attention on programme making and the introduction of digital services. The BBC will be entitled to keep most of the proceeds from the sale to finance the introduction of new technology.

The auction is being handled by Lehman Brothers, who have advised the BBC on the valuation. Initial expectations of about pounds 180m have been revised upward to at least pounds 250m, following the sale of NTL. That deal created what Lehman has argued is a new benchmark.

The BBC recently launched a radical management restructuring, upgrading the role of the chief executive of BBC Resources, Rod Lynch, whose section handles the transmission services. The shake-up was aimed at improving efficiency and extending the corporation's global commercial operations, as an addition to core funding through the licence fee.

The restructuring led some to predict the eventual privatisation of the whole of the BBC, and the end of the licence fee. But John Birt, director general, has insisted the plans are to safeguard to future of the BBC as a public service broadcaster.