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Next Level, Liberate team on interactive TV venture

In a challenge to cable operators, the broadband equipment firm and the set-top box software developer announce they will create interactive TV services over standard phone lines using digital subscriber line technology.

In a challenge to cable operators, Next Level Communications and Liberate Technologies are teaming up to try to create interactive TV services over standard telephone lines using digital subscriber line technology.

Mitchell Kertzman The two companies said they will integrate San Carlos, Calif.-based Liberate's client and server software with Next Level's advanced DSL broadband delivery system. The integration would not only provide TV services over standard telephone lines but also high-speed Internet access.

"This agreement will better enable us to provide enhanced digital service capabilities that allow our customers to compete more directly with cable companies in offering affordable Internet access," Pete Keeler, Rohnert Park, Calif.-based Next Level's chief executive, said in a statement.

While the convergence of personal computers, Internet access and television programming have been touted for years, there is a growing number of companies on the cusp of offering Internet content, commerce and services, and television programming via TVs.

Microsoft was supposed to have started tests of interactive services in two cities served by AT&T's Broadband and Internet services unit but is currently behind schedule.

America Online has forged a path onto the television screen by cutting deals with TiVo, a creator of personal television services. Several other companies, including NBC, CBS, Philips Electronics, Disney and Cox Communications, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen have stakes in TiVo. Just last month, NBC Internet took a stake in Telocity, a broadband access firm, promising to include features specifically designed for broadband--video, audio and other media-rich content.

Just last week, Liberate also cut a deal with TiVo that is likely to spur the proliferation of "video-on-demand."

ReplayTV, also an on-demand TV company, is backed by several heavyweights, including Disney, Showtime and Time Warner.

With today's partnership, the Liberate software will enable Next Level's customers to offer high-speed interactive Internet access from either the TV or personal computer through a single set-top box, the companies said.

The agreement calls for Liberate TV Navigator client software to be integrated with Next Level's new Residential Gateway 2000, a single set-top box connected to the DSL line that provides the connection to multiple appliances in the home, including telephones, PCs and TVs.

"The DSL market holds an extraordinary amount of promise, delivering next generation capabilities and services over existing infrastructure," Mitchell Kertzman, chief executive at Liberate, said in a statement. "By entering this market segment with industry leaders like US West and Next Level, our confidence is high that Liberate's success in DSL will quickly attain the momentum we've already achieved with cable operators around the world."

Under this agreement, Next Level and Liberate have also agreed to participate in joint marketing efforts to promote their technologies to telephone companies worldwide. Next Level and Liberate will co-market to a number of mutual customers already using or in trial with the Next Level system, or on the Liberate software.