Oftel warning to digital operators

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The Independent Online
Don Cruickshank, the telecommunications regulator, yesterday warned he would "pounce" on attempts by digital television services, such as those planned by BSkyB, to use the new technology to discriminate unfairly against the programmes of rival programme makers.

However, unveiling his final plans to regulate the multi-channel digital television, it emerged that the regulator will have no power initially over a similar digital service planned by the cable companies. BSkyB and some cable operators aim to launch competing digital services later this year.

They could provide hundreds of channels, raising concerns that existing terrestrial broadcasters could see their offerings swamped. Programme makers have been concerned at the terms for accessing the "set-top boxes" which decode digital signals in the home.

Mr Cruickshank is writing to broadcasters and content providers requesting internal information on the planned services. "I'm anxious there are the makings of a very long, drawn out, negotiation here," he said.

Electronic programme guides, which act as computerised index systems, were "a big problem," said Mr Cruickshank and could be used to steer consumers towards particular channels.