Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Minutes of Evidence


Annex

1.  SUBMISSION BY TELETEXT

  Teletext Limited welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Joint Scrutiny Committee's consideration of the draft Communications Bill.

  This submission is confined to Teletext Limited's response to the proposals set out in the draft Bill (and the accompanying policy narrative) regarding the public teletext service.

  In summary, Teletext Limited welcomes the stated objectives of the draft Bill; to reaffirm the role of public service broadcasting (including the public teletext service) in the digital age, to ensure the universal availability of public service channels, to require the delivery of public service channels on all the main platforms (must carry/must offer) and to ensure "due prominence" for public service broadcasters on EPG's (electronic programme guides). We believe that the achievement of these objectives will be a significant step forward.

However, as the draft Bill indicates there are a number of issues, specific to the public teletext service, which will require careful and imaginative consideration.

In particular:

    (i)  the difficulty regarding capacity for the digital terrestrial service whilst recognised, remains unresolved;

    (ii)  further consultation is required to define more precisely the structure of the service to be covered by the "must carry/must offer" provisions;

    (iii)  the additional costs associated with obtaining carriage on a "must offer" basis on cable and satellite platforms;

    (iv)  the potentially very significant increased costs associated with delivering a highly regional service on the digital satellite platform; and

    (v)  due prominence for the public teletext service

  We set these out in greater detail below.

1.1  Digital terrestrial capacity

  The capacity available on the digital terrestrial platform for the public teletext service is inadequate. This is widely acknowledged. The draft Bill provides that OFCOM can reserve digital capacity for a qualifying service, including the public teletext service. Teletext Limited propose that OFCOM do so as the teletext service currently possible on the digital terrestrial platform is unacceptable.

1.2  Structure of the public teletext service

  The digital public teletext service is not, and should not be, a simulcast of the analogue service. The technical facilities available on the different digital television platforms allow richer and more comprehensive variants to be offered to viewers. As a result it will be necessary to define the service to be carried (under the must carry/must offer provisions) in such a way as to allow these facilities to be fully exploited for the benefit of viewers.

  The draft Bill sets out that this matter be subject to further consultation and Teletext Limited has developed some proposals to this end. Teletext Limited looks forward to working with officials to resolve this issue.

1.3  Additional costs

  Teletext Limited propose that the charges levied on public service broadcasters by platform owners be subject to a pricing regime separate to that applied to commercial non-public service broadcasters. The must carry/must offer provisons placed on public service broadcasters distort the commercial negotiation process to such a degree that a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory outcome cannot be assured. Teletext Limited suggest that this can be overcome by establishing a uniform "rate" for the carriage of public service channels on digital television platforms.

1.4  Regional delivery costs

  A key feature of the analogue public teletext service is its regional content. To replicate this on the digital satellite service could become prohibitively expensive as each regional variant will in effect be transmitted as a separate, and additional, channel. Teletext Limited propose that this matter be covered by the new definition of the public teletext service and the provision of a uniform service carriage rate.

1.5  Due prominence

  The draft Bill acknowledges the importance of ensuring that public service channels are given due prominence on electronic programme guides and that these guides should be specifically regulated.

  Teletext Limited support this view and propose that the public teletext service appear on the main EPG alongside the other public service channels. Teletext Limited also proposes that the use of the "TEXT" button is reassigned to the public teletext service on the digital versions of Ch3 and Ch4 as this is where viewers invariably expect to find this public service.

  In conclusion, Teletext Limited proposes that:

    —  OFCOM take the necessary steps to reserve additional capacity for the digital terrestrial public teletext service;

    —  the digital public teletext service be redefined to reflect the capabilities of the different digital television platforms and these services form the basis of the must carry/must offer provision;

    —  that a public service channel "carriage rate" be established and regulated by OFCOM;

    —  that the public teletext service receive prominence equivalent to that accorded to other public service channels and including the reassignment of the "TEXT" button on Ch3 and Ch4.

  Teletext Limited looks forward to working with those involved to resolve these issues.

2.  THE NOMINATED NEWS PROVIDER ON CHANNEL 3 AND 4

  DMGT supports objectives of the Government regarding the provision of news by public service broadcasters. In particular DMGT is encouraged that the importance of delivering a high quality, well funded news service in prime time has been recognised by Government.

  However, DMGT is disappointed that, given the very significant changes in the plurality of news supply, the opportunity has not been taken to dispense with the ownership restrictions placed on the nominated news provider. It is DMGT's view that these restrictions are no longer relevant, are a disincentive to higher levels of investment in news provision by shareholders and when allied with the proposal to regulate financial provision under the news supply contract (paragraph 8.2.9.4) therefore place the nominated news provider at an unnecessary disadvantage to the many other news providers now active.

  DMGT would propose that the ownership restriction placed on the nominated news provider be removed and that issues surrounding the independence of the news provider from the regional Channel 3 be dealt with instead by licence conditions affecting ITV.


 
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