Labour demands cable fast track for BT

The Labour Party is urging the Government to agree a timetable for allowing BT to compete with cable companies.

BT is the only company with the capacity to develop a national, high-capacity network for delivering interactive multimedia services, says Labour shadow Heritage Secretary Chris Smith.

Labour published a document on the future of telecommunications, Communicating Britain’s Future, on Monday. It proposes that BT be allowed to compete in a cable franchise area seven years after the franchise licence has been granted. Labour’s call echoes recommendations made by a Commons trade and industry select committee late last year.

At present, BT is banned from offering broadcast services in competition with cable. The Government has pledged to “review” these restrictions by 2001 at the latest.

Communicating Britain’s Future has been tentatively welcomed by BT.

“It gives us certainty as to when we could compete,” a BT spokesman says. “Labour also shares our views about the social benefits of developing a proper telecoms framework.”

A Cable Communications Association spokesman criticises the report as “not properly thought-out. It favours BT too much”.

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