Interactive TV set to win Brussels' approval

THE prospect of television viewers being able to shop, manage their finances or surf the internet from the comfort of their sofas came a step closer yesterday as Karel van Miert, the European Commission's competition chief, said he was likely to give the go-ahead to a broadcasting joint venture between British Telecom and British Sky Broadcasting.

Mr van Miert was speaking after BT announced that it had made certain promises to ease the Commission's fears about its involvement in the venture, which is called British Interactive Broadcasting (BIB).

BT has promised to sell off its two cable TV operations, which consist of franchises in Westminster and Milton Keynes. It has also pledged to offer third-party companies access to the network it is planning to set up.

BIB, which is a joint venture between BT, BSkyB, Matsushita and Midland Bank, was set up last year to exploit the opportunities for interactive services offered by the introduction of digital TV.

At the beginning of next month, the group is planning to sell decoders, known as set- top boxes, which plug into any TV set. The boxes, which will be subsidised by BIB in order to make them more affordable, will offer access to a range of interactive products as well as BSkyB's 200- channel digital satellite TV service.

For the past year, BIB has been locked in negotiations with the Commission. Even though the venture has the support of all the UK's regulatory bodies, Brussels was concerned that BT's involvement would freeze out potential competitors.

Industry observers said that BT had escaped from the review lightly. Its cable operations are a tiny part of its business and not significant in the light of the recent consolidation among UK cable companies. The requirement to share the service with any third parties was widely expected, analysts said.

Rupert Gavin, managing director of BT's Consumer Division, welcomed the news, saying: "BIB is a world first which will bring the UK to the forefront of the information age and enable digital TV viewers to enjoy the benefits of the information society."

The news came as BT reported unchanged pre-tax profits of pounds 3.2bn for the year to March. The group said start-up costs in continental Europe and increased interest charges resulting from the 35p special dividend paid earlier this year had held back profit growth.

The group said it expected European losses to peak at pounds 300m this year. It has been investing heavily in building up a network of fixed and mobile telecom interests in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland.

Sir Iain Vallance, BT's chairman, said the company was "talking to a number of operators" in the US following the breakdown of its merger with MCI, the US telecom giant, last year. However, he added that BT would not act until it received a $7bn cash payment from MCI later on this summer.

Sir Peter Bonfield, the chief executive, said the group was well-placed to take advantage of opportunities in its core business as well as new areas such as multimedia, the internet and mobile phones. The shares closed down 2p at 692.5p

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...