Row breaks over late TV licence application

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THE INDEPENDENT Television Commission is at the centre of controversy following its decision to accept an application for a broadcasting licence that arrived several minutes after its 12 noon deadline.

The late application came from Skytext, part of Rupert Murdoch's 50 per cent owned BSkyB satellite television network. The only other applicant was SimpleActive, a joint venture with Guardian Media Group, owner of the Guardian and Manchester Evening News.

The licence awards the 10-year right to broadcast information such as share prices in text form on spare capacity on Channel 4's signal. Justin Cadbury and Peter Mason, of SimpleActive, thought they had the licence in the bag as they sat in the ITC's offices watching the clock tick towards noon.

With two seconds to go, according to Mr Cadbury, the phone rang. Skytext was on the line begging for an extension because the courier delivering its application had been held up in traffic.

Mr Cadbury said the deadline had passed before the request for an extension could be made. 'This sets a dangerous precedent. If the ITC is not going to stick to the deadline, the whole process becomes a charade,' he said.

James Conway, of the ITC, said the invitation to apply for a licence stated that the commission would be sympathetic to late entries if a good excuse was produced. The excuse of heavy traffic on a rail strike day was acceptable.

Mr Cadbury claims traffic in London was particularly light on 3 August, the day in question.

The decision to allow Skytext's application is all the more upsetting for SimpleActive because Skytext bid pounds 355,000 to SimpleActive's pounds 78,000.

Provided both applicants can satisfy the ITC that they will be able to maintain the service for 10 years, the licence will be awarded to the highest bidder.