Despite the fact that it is considering giving Millicom Inc a licence to operate dial-up entertainment services, neither the Department of Trade and Industry nor Millicom seems to know just how to define the term: in particular, the question of whether dialling up a television station to receive scheduled programmes constitutes a dial-up service has not been resolved. Millicom says the question is academic since it has no plans to offer scheduled television programming, instead focussing on such services as dial-up video libraries. Nonetheless, should business conditions force a change of mind, would its proposed licence permit a more conventional cable television-type service? The Department is using the public consultation period to establish exactly what services should be permitted. A spokesman pointed out that if dial-up television was approved, then Millicom would still be bound by its status as a carrier, and would be able to offer only programming from other companies. Nevertheless, this would drive a hole through the government’s policy towards cable television companies, in particular its strategy of granting only one franchise in each geographical region: since Millicom’s licence application is for a national service, it would be able to compete in every franchise area, with a theoretically a cost advantage since it intends to use a radio-based network. Millicom commented that the company is unsure of what the proposed licence would permit, but that it is certain that it would cover all of the services that the company is hoping to offer. That, of course does not answer the change-of-mind question. Surprisingly, the UK Cable Television Association is taking a fairly relaxed view of the situation, despite the fact that a ruling allowing public telecommunications operators to offer dial-up television would seriously impact on cable television companies’ business. A spokesman said that the question is not high on its list or priorities, although he would not comment on whether the Association is lobbying the Industry Department against permitting dial-up access to scheduled television broadcasts. Assuming that dial-up reception of television programmes is accepted, limitations will still apply under the Broadcasting Act. Among other stipulations, this lays down the maximum number of people that may receive a service before a broadcasting licence is required by the provider. This too could impact any public telecommunications operator wanting to offer cable-type service.
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