Newsbits


                     Anything new on the box  tonight,then?                     
                         (Scotsman; 02/16/99)                         

   THE dream of turning every television set into an internet terminal took an 
important step forward yesterday. Edinburgh is the first city to be given the 
opportunity to experience the technology which combines conventional television 
with the interactivity of the net.

   Cable TV company NTL Telecommunications is launching the TV- Internet 
package, a set-top box which, when connected to a telephone line and 
television, gives users access to a full range of internet services. 
Highlighting low costs, high speeds and ease of use as key factors, the company 
claims the package will break new ground in the web's development.

   "TV-Internet is aimed at the 20 million people in the UK who either don't 
have a PC, can't afford to purchase one or are intimidated by the technology," 
says internet business development manager Mark Warren. "This is not just 
another ISP {internet service provider} - this is a fundamental change in the 
way we use the web."

   The interface presented by the package is quite unlike the browser-based 
system familiar to current PC owners. Users access the service's on-screen 
menus and follow links through simple single key presses, and can 
simultaneously monitor television programmes shown in a box in the corner of 
the screen. Five e-mail accounts and free web space are included, and a built-
in control feature is available to restrict access to web pages containing 
adult or unsavoury content.

   The black set-top box, delivered with a video explaining the installation 
process, can be activated either through an infrared keyboard or a remote 
control unit. Indicator lights signal whenever connection is lost or e-mail 
received and the unit also has a small internal flash memory, standard PC 
printer port and a smart card slot in readiness for future developments.

   There is no form of external drive. Necessary upgrades to software or 
firmware are all to be delivered automatically online.

   The TV-Internet package costs GBP 15 a month plus telephone charges ranging 
from three pence per minute during business hours to a night-time rate of one 
pence.

   Given that a quality, reconditioned PC with the ability to both access the 
internet and implement most commonly used applications can be had for in the 
region of GBP 250, at GBP 180 a year NTL's offer might not prove the best value 
for a user who needs the most out of his hardware.

   However, pointing out that the rental package cushions customers from the 
cost of future upgrades, Warren is convinced this is precisely the move that 
will bring scores of new users online.  "We have intentionally made this less 
about computers and more about television because we believe that is what the 
public want," he says. "It's something they are familiar and comfortable with."

   Content on the service is currently supplied by Virgin Net, in which NTL 
holds a 49 per cent stake, and is no different from that available on the 
service provider's website.

   From 31 March, however, NTL promises a gradual roll out of a variety of 
interactive services from banking to shopping. Partners are still being 
finalised, though a deal last week with software publisher Infogrames 
Entertainment means the company will this autumn launch a digital games 
channel.

   When a similar system, the NetStation, was launched in 1997, potential 
subscribers responded with sullen silence. Warren - whose company bought out 
NetStation for GBP 1.2 million this year - points out that the hardware and 
interface has been greatly improved, and expects that more savvy marketing, 
including tie-in deals with football clubs, will this time win the doubters 
over.

   A crucial factor, he says, will be speed. At every local point of presence 
on their national network, NTL has installed cache engines to store the most 
popularly accessed information, greatly reducing loading times for the 
impatient viewer.

   By having instantly available pages that would once have trailed up the line 
from the nearest internet exchange in London, Warren believes his company has a 
package that will coax the most reluctant of Scots into finally joining the 
revolution and logging on.

   "We have invested heavily and built what is simply the best internet network 
in Britain - nobody has anything to compare to it. We have also created a level 
of user-friendliness that has never been seen before and are making it 
available to every member of the UK population. This is absolutely the 
technology that will really make the internet happen."

   lTV-Internet sales line: 0800 052 1234






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