Corporation to run transmitter sale

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The Independent Online

Media Editor

The privatisation of the BBC's transmission services is to go ahead, with up to 80 per cent of the pounds 100m in anticipated proceeds to remain with the public broadcaster.

Unveiling the corporation's renewed charter yesterday, the Department of National Heritage confirmed that the transmission sale will be handled by the BBC, to ensure the "interests of licence-fee payers are properly protected".

The BBC was also given a guarantee that the costs of transmission services would not be allowed to rise in the future, and that the broadcaster would benefit from any savings and increases in productivity. As a result, any "windfall profits" made by the purchaser would be shared by the BBC.

The sale, which is expected to be completed next year, will be open to all comers. The heritage department has specifically not ruled out BT and other telephone companies. Electricity utilities are also expected to express an interest.

More controversially, NTL, the private-sector company that provides transmission services to the ITV companies, will also be allowed to bid.

If it wins, NTL, formerly the transmission network run by the Independent Broadcasting Authority, would monopolise analogue transmission services.However, the Government said that the role of Oftel, the telecommunications regulator, in overseeing transmission services, would ensure fair pricing and security of supply.

At the direction of the Government, the BBC plans to use the proceeds to develop digital production technology, in anticipation of the introduction of digital television by 1997.

"We're glad to retain the freedom and flexibility to manage the sale ourselves," a spokesman for the BBC said.

The idea of privatising the service was never very popular at the BBC, and the broadcaster had pushed hard to retain as much control over the process and the proceeds as possible.

The corporation now concedes, however, that the costs of developing transmission services for digital television might be better met by private finance.