Internet TV trials widen scope in China

IPTV to land in 17 cities this month

SHANGHAI — China Telecom and regional media conglom Shanghai Media Group are on the verge of launching their first joint trial of Internet protocol television.

IPTV has been available in restricted areas of China since 2001, but technological and licensing uncertainties have limited expansion.

The new trial, which will kick off sometime this month, will take IPTV to 17 cities. The Shanghai Media Group also has pacted with China Netcom for a more limited trial in the northern city of Harbin,

IPTV regulations have caused a turf war between regulator the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft), which controls the TV industry, and the Ministry of Information Industry (MII), which controls telecommunications.

In 1999 the government banned Sarft and MII from involvement in overlapping services, but the new technology appears to have undermined that.

Sarft is the only ministry allowed to issue IPTV licenses, but it has been reluctant to hand them out to telcos because of fears the new services will detract from the digital TV rollout that has been the government’s priority for the last couple years.

So far, only China Central Television and the Shanghai Media Group have been granted IPTV licenses, both this year, despite telcos’ continued efforts to speed up the introduction of IPTV.

Telcos, of which China Netcom and China Telecom are the main players, argue IPTV is just one of many broadband services they offer and shouldn’t require any further licenses than those already granted by MII.

China Netcom, largely in the north of China, offers limited IPTV services in 10 provinces. China Telecom, which mainly operates in the south, has been offering a form of IPTV in Shanghai and Guangzhou since 2003, and plans to introduce more services, including the new trial with the Shanghai Media Group later this year. The company also is working with electronics firm Changhong to develop IPTV sets.

Local IP service providers and online portals are also beginning to get in on the game, offering video-on-demand and limited TV services as part of their broadband packages.

China has around 30 million broadband subscribers, with that number growing at close to 50% annually, making this potentially the biggest market for IPTV in the world.

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