Digital TV splits ITC and Oftel

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The Independent Online
Two government regulators - Oftel and the Independent Television Commission - yesterday denied that they were on a collision course over which body should oversee Britain's digital TV revolution.

In its formal response to the Government's proposal reforms on media cross-ownership, the ITC again laid claim to regulating "conditional access" - the black-box technology that allows television signals to be scrambled and unscrambled. The ITC, which is continuing to work on a code of practice governing conditional access, argues that its role of regulating broadcasting makes it the logical body to regulate access to digital terrestrial television.

The Government had suggested in its Green Paper on digital TV, unveiled earlier this month, that telecoms watchdog Oftel should oversee the licensing of conditional access.

In its response, made public yesterday, the ITC said it would urge the Government "to reconsider" its proposal, claiming that both conditional access and the subscription management systems used to charge viewers "affect the availability, content and diversity" of services. "These are broadcasting issues," the ITC says, "and responsibility for them would rest more logically with the ITC."

Despite the apparent conflict, an ITC spokesman said there was "no jursidictional war looming" between the ITC and Oftel. An Oftel spokesman said: "We want nothing to do with content. But we do believe that the convergence of telecoms and broadcasting make it necessary for regulations to be reformed in response. It is for the Government to decide how this is done."

The ITC said it generally supported the Government's approach to reforming the rules on cross ownership, but continued to oppose a limit of two ITV licences per company.

It also said that the Government should consider liberalising cross-holding rules covering newspaper publishers and cable operators. This sector was not covered by the Green Paper's broad liberalisation thrust.

The commission supported the Government's intention to redefine the term "control" in considering applications for licences and in evaluating shareholding structure under the new ownership rules.