Digital Interactive TV

I’ve been an digital cable TV customer of ntl for some years. When the system was installed I was told that interactive TV services weren’t available in my area but that they would arrive in “about six weeks”. This was something like four years ago and we still don’t have interactive services.

A bit of history about the cable TV market in the UK. Many years ago the government split the country up into areas and gave each area to one cable operator. My area was run by an operator called Videotron. Over the last few years all of these smaller companies have been take over until there are only two companies left running all of the cable TV in the UK. Each company has a complete monopoly in the areas that it serves. The competition element is supposed to come from the fact that people can also get digital TV from a satellite dish (from Sky) or through their aerial (from FreeView).

Over the years that I’ve been failing to get interactive services I’ve been asking ntl cosutomer services what the status is. At first I got a lot of “it’ll be a few months” but eventually I started to get something closer to the full story. It seems that the original Videotron network was built on a bit of a budget and it doesn’t have the capability to carry the two-way traffic required for interactive services. Providing my area with interactive services would entail a major upgrade to the network infrastructure.

All this time, ntl have been careful to market interactive services as a free of charge extra service which means that we can’t even claim a rebate for not getting the service.

I emailed their customer services again earlier this week and got the same story in reply. This time, reading between the lines, they seemed to imply that in might never be cost effective to upgrade the network. I replied asking them to clarify this and telling them that if I was never going to get interactive services then I would consider switching to an alternative provider. This morning I got a response saying that they were “in the middle” of upgrading the network and that there was a “provisional” release date of November 2005.

I really don’t want to switch to Sky (because it’s a Murdoch company) and Freeview doesn’t carry most of the channels that I want to watch, so it looks like I’ll just have to wait and see.

But it’s a but annoying when I’m watching a TV program and the presentor says something like “digital viewers can get more information by pressing their red button now”, knowing that I’m a second-class digital viewer whose red button is useless.

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