View from City Road: Communicopia is a foreign word

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The Independent Online
Goldman Sachs already has a word for it. Communicopia. It's intended to describe any company with multi-media pretensions, companies at the cutting edge of convergence between television, telephony and computers. Rather presumptuously, the media team at Goldman Sachs has copyrighted the name. They needn't have bothered; it's hard to see such a tongue twister ever gaining common parlance. But let's be kind to Goldman, just for a day at least.

Yesterday brought details of the first big communicopia market flotation, sponsored in part by, you've guessed it, Goldman Sachs. TeleWest, the largest cable television operator in Britain, plans to go public this summer on a market valuation of pounds 1.85bn, big enough to qualify for the FT-SE 100 Share Index. Opinions vary greatly on the investment attractions of these new stock market animals. Some - this column included - believe cable will be one of the outstanding investment opportunities of the year. Others think such valuations fanciful in the extreme. We'll see.

One thing seems clear, however. Unless BT can arm-twist the Government into dramatically changing the regulatory landscape - which seems unlikely - the cable industry will have such a head start by the time BT is legally allowed to offer a similar multi-media service to households, that it will be in a position to clean up. There is growing concern among ministers that by imposing such restrictions on BT - in the interests of competition - they may have given away the keys to Britain's multi-media future to the largely American and Continental companies that dominate cable in Britain. It's too late now, however. At least by floating a minority shareholding on the stock exchange, companies like TeleWest take on a semblance of Britishness even if they remain American-controlled.