Northern Irish cable licence nears

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THE INDEPENDENT Television Commission is expected to announce plans to offer a licence to provide cable television and telephone services in Northern Ireland by the end of this month. Cable and Wireless is believed to be interested in the franchise, which is regarded as one of the most lucrative still to be awarded in Britain.

There are about 600,000 households in the province with no alternative to BT for telephones and no access to cable television. One cable industry source said that the licence was also attractive because the population in some areas of Northern Ireland has a high disposable income and because the peace process is attracting attention to the area.

Northern Ireland is one of a new round of cable franchise areas in which the licensees will be allowed to deliver the services by cable or by radio links. Unlike existing cable television licensees, companies applying will have to bid an initial price and then pay the Treasury a percentage of their annual television revenues. The telephony revenues are not affected by the agreement.

According to the Cable Television Association, between 20 and 30 franchises will be awarded over the next two years. The industry has 750,000 cable television subscribers at present and about 550,000 installed telephone lines. Some 40,000 new telephone lines are being installed every month.