Cable TV gets green light in Britain

The race to wire up Britain, or at least the urban parts of it, for cable television seems to be well under way - despite rumblings of protest from the BBC and from the officials who run commercial televison here.

The green light came in a report to the government headed by Lord Hunt, in the extraordinary quick time, by British standards, of three months. The prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, is known to favor cable, partly because the wiring is to be laid by private industry, at little cost to the taxpayer.

At the British Broadcasting Corporation, officials complain that the whole project is being rushed through too fast (Parliament is expected to give formal approval before Christmas). They say cable will discriminate against rural and poorer areas, unlike the BBC plan to broadcast on satellite channels beginning late in 1985. The BBC is also worried that cable will bring a virtually unregulated flood of American programs like ''Dallas'' and squeeze out British productions.

The Commercial Television Authority wanted to run the new network itself, but will not now do so.

Many people worry that soft pornography will be allowed on cable. Lord Hunt says it will be shown only on channels that can be electronically locked by parents. One commentator replied that children are likely to be the only ones in many households who will understand the locking device at all.

The BBC is relieved, however, that cable operators must carry all existing BBC and commercial programs. Cable is also forbidden to have exclusive rights to major sporting events such as Wimbledon and test cricket matches.

A final worry: Cable companies want to wire Britain as fast as possible, with coaxial cable. Some at the BBC and at British Telecom (the government phone company) think new fiber optics should be used. But fiber optics won't be ready for another 18 months.

Meanwhile, there is more television static. A dispute on the new (commercial) Channel Four threatens advertising on the existing Channel Three (Independent Television or ITV) as well.

The new channel has ambitious hopes of snaring 10 percent of British viewers in its first year (a proportion that the second BBC channel took 15 years to reach). But it could lose (STR)5 million ($8.5 million) a month from an already tight budget unless the dispute is solved soon.

The actors' union, Equity, insists that actors in commercials be paid at the full existing rate for Channel Four advertisements. Ad makers say rates should be less because audiences will be smaller. The dispute has been worsening as the Nov. 2 opening day for the new channel approaches.

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