Long-distance cable TV link to go ahead

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NATIONAL Transcommunications, the privatised engineering arm of the former Independent Broadcasting Authority, is to build the first long- distance link between two cable television franchises. The link will open the way for a range of independent telecommunications services between Birmingham and London.

Birmingham Cable, which has the largest cable television and cable telephone subscriber base in the UK, has asked for the link to serve business customers in its area who also have offices in the capital.

The digital connection will initially be used for data communications but could be used in future for voice telephony. In the first instance, the bridge is between Birmingham Cable's network and United Artists' network in Croydon. However, all 22 London cable television franchises are already involved in a project that will allow them to link their networks together and share resources.

The London-Birmingham link coincides with an an acceleration in the consolidation of the cable television industry and the cable companies' expansion into telecommunications. Yesterday General Cable, part of Generale des Eaux, bought three cable franchises in the Yorkshire area. The move gives the company control of six neighbouring franchises covering one million homes and forms the basis of a new regional television and telecommunications group.

General Cable plans to invest up to pounds 500m in the area in the next 10 years and create 1,500 jobs directly in the cable business. On Wednesday, Nynex of the US bought three cable franchises in the North-west, making it the largest cable operator in the UK in terms of equity, with 17 franchises. Other top American cable operators here include US West, Telecommunications Inc and South Western Bell.