Plan to cable all schools free: Companies aim to spend hundreds of millions to steal a march on BT

Click to follow
THE cable television industry plans to steal a march on rivals such as BT by cabling free of charge every school in Britain, at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds.

The project will involve a commitment from cable television companies to connect all schools in their franchise areas and to provide them with a number of the set-top boxes needed to receive and view cable programmes. Free programming would also be provided.

The Cable Television Association estimated the cost at up to pounds 4,000 or pounds 5,000 per school. A spokesman said: 'This is partly to do with community relations and with the concerns among politicians and regulators that there should not be haves and have- nots.'

He added: 'There is the consideration that the children of today will be the consumers the industry needs to target in a few years time.' Cable companies also hope that schools receiving free programmes will buy other services, including telephony, from their local cable firm.

Cable companies, most of which are owned by large foreign groups, are also planning a more wide- ranging marketing campaign to promote the industry generically.

Cable companies have been stung by a House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee report that criticised the Government for lack of vision in cabling homes and businesses with fibre- optic technology. According to the CTA, 'The parent companies of cable firms are making large strategic investments. They have vision and they want people to know about it.'

The cable television industry plans to invest pounds 10bn by the end of the decade. Franchises already awarded cover 70 per cent of the country. Dozens more franchises covering the rest of Britian are expected to be awarded over the next 18 months.

With most cable television companies attaching as much importance to their ability to offer telephone services as television, cable is likely to become an important rival to BT.

Cable companies hope to work with schools and programme makers on the sort of material that would best benefit pupils.

The schools scheme is still at the planning stage and is not expected to be ready for launch for six months. The CTA said that the 'Cable in the Classroom' campaign could be a precursor to other community schemes, including the provision of cable television to residential homes for the elderly.

Cable companies are installing 40,000 telephones a month. They expect the rate to increase to 60,000 per month by the beginning of next year.

The cable industry expects to have won at least 15 per cent of BT's domestic telephony business by the end of the decade. Some individual companies believe they could take as much as 40 per cent of domestic telephony subscribers in their franchise area.

The industry plans trials of multimedia services including home banking, shopping and other interactive services. The trials are expected to be hosted by Nynex, one of the largest cable companies, which is linking several franchises in north-west England to build a regional fibre-optic network.