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Beeb battling Rupe on digital TV front

LONDON — The BBC has launched a final bid to prevent Rupert Murdoch from gaining an effective monopoly over the digital TV gateway in the U.K.

The British government completed its consultation period Tuesday on its proposed regulatory regime for digital TV, and is expected to announce its plans within the next week.

The BBC is at the forefront of a vocal lobby that believes the government’s draft proposals, published earlier this month, will hand too much power to Murdoch and his satcaster British Sky Broadcasting.

On Tuesday the pubcaster called for digital set-top box operators to be required to license their technology to other manufacturers and broadcasters on request.

Murdoch’s News Corp., which controls 40% of BSkyB, also owns the U.K.’s only conditional access technology, giving the company a long head start in the launch of digital set-top boxes.

Under the government’s draft proposals, broadcasters would have to negotiate with Murdoch for transmission via his digital box — a process that will be overseen by telecommunications watchdog Oftel to ensure fair dealing.

However, BSkyB is equally unhappy with the vagueness of the rules by which Oftel will judge this process. Until this is clarified, the satcaster is reluctant to its plans for digital channels, originally intended for next fall but now increasingly likely to be delayed.

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