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Canadian firms eye TV over high-speed lines

NBTel is offering interactive TV services to customers via high-speed phone lines, hinting at things to come for more U.S. telecommunications firms.

Canadian telephone companies plan to offer interactive TV and Internet content over high-speed phone lines, hinting at things to come for more U.S. telecommunications firms.

Telecommunications firm NBTel is the first Canadian firm to get permission to broadcast TV programming over high-speed digital subscriber lines (DSL). The technology uses ordinary copper telephone lines to shuttle data and voice transmissions simultaneously.

Although many firms here in the United States and abroad have attempted various versions of interactive TV, few have been successfully deployed in the mass market. Today firms such as AT&T that have built high-speed empires on the backs of traditional businesses aim to incorporate phone, interactive TV, video and Internet services into affordable packages for consumers.

U.S.-based local carriers such as US West and SBC Communications could look north of the border for some guidance. The so-called Baby Bells are attempting to catch up to companies like AT&T who are trying to add telephony services over cable networks.

So far, however, U.S. telecommunications carriers have been slower than the cable operators in terms of deploying integrated high-speed services. These companies have also run unsuccessful experiments with video across wireless and phone networks.

US West has been one of the more active companies in this area and is already offering interactive services via TV in partnership with Liberate Technologies on a trial basis. That program is currently separate from its effort to provide digital TV service over DSL lines, which is available in Phoenix.

That may slowly change, though. Liberate recently announced a partnership with Next Level to integrate Liberate's software with Next Level's new Residential Gateway 2000, a single TV set-top box attached to a DSL line that connects to multiple appliances in the home, including telephones, PCs and TVs. This set-top could eventually be used by telecommunications firms to provide both telephony, video and interactive services on a single line.

NBTel said service will initially be available in Moncton, New Brunswick, a city with a population of about 60,000, and will be available in other areas by mid-year, the company said.

NBTel noted that it is using software from a Canadian start-up, iMagicTV, for the new service. NBTel is a subsidiary of Aliant Telecom, which is also a major shareholder in iMagic TV.

Another Aliant subsidiary, Nova Scotia-based Maritime Telephone & Telegraph (MTT), also recently announced that its customers would be getting interactive TV services in late 2000. iMagic also lists U.K.-based Kingston Communications as a customer.

News of the plan comes at a time when another Canadian company, iCraveTV, has gotten in hot legal water with U.S.-based broadcasters, because it started offering video streams of programming such as NFL football over the Internet that wouldn't be available otherwise.