Leading cable operators join anti-Sky campaign

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The Independent Online
Britain's cable companies will renew their attack on Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB today, claiming the company is acting anti-competitively in the supply of pay-television programming in the UK market.

For the first time, two of the country's leading cable operators, Nynex CableComms and Telewest Communications, are lending their voice to the anti-Sky campaign, despite having signed controversial long-term supply agreements with BSkyB that had previously led to deep rifts in the cable industry.

In a statement signed by all cable operators, the industry will reject BSkyB's most recent "rate card", which lays out the terms and the prices under which Sky's channels are offered on a wholesale basis to the cable industry. The companies are even threatening legal action against BSkyB, and will call on the Office of Fair Trading to look again at the company's dominant position in the market for pay-TV programming.

The move coincides with submissions to the European Commission in Brussels, criticising the ever-closer ties between BSkyB and BT, which are co-operating on the introduction of digital services from next year.

On BSkyB's rate card, a senior cable source said last night: "We don't like the fact that we are forced to sell channels in a certain way, despite what customers might want. Viewers are required to pay for services that they neither want nor use."

"We decided as an industry that it was time everybody took a fresh look, based on customers' preferences," said Stephen Davidson, chief executive of Telewest Communications, and chairman of the Cable Communications Association.

The new rate card was produced following a formal inquiry by the OFT, which largely cleared BSkyB of charges that it was acting anti-competitively.

The OFT asked the cable industry to respond to the revised rate card, which was meant to make it easier for cable operators to package cable channels in line with market demand. However, the cable companies will argue that the new terms are no less onerous than the previous rate card, and that it could undermine the principles of consumer choice.

The attack on Sky follows several days of intensely negative press comment about BSkyB's control of the pay-TV market.

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