Copyright 2004 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.

The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario)

From Lexis Nexis

Bell Canada, the country's largest telephone company, is asking regulators for approval to deliver television over phone lines, which would allow it to compete with cable operators in Canada's most lucrative markets.

Bell has filed two applications — made public this week by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission — for cable licences to serve 11 urban centres in Ontario and Quebec, including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.

The Montreal-based carrier said it plans to send television programming down the same fibre and copper lines it uses to offer Internet service to residences, known as a very high-speed digital subscriber line (VDSL).

The cost for getting the television service operating would amount to $676-million, Bell said in one of its filings.

According to the carrier's chief of regulatory affairs, Bell would be able to begin offering service almost immediately, if it wins CRTC approval.

"We're not that far off. Our intention is to offer service in a reasonable amount of time after receiving approval," Mirko Bibic said.

Other Canadian phone companies — NBTel, SaskTel, Manitoba Telecom Services and Telus Corp. — have already been granted cable licences by the federal regulator.

And Canada's largest cable operators — Rogers, Shaw, Quebecor's Videotron and Cogeco — have been gearing up to invade the phone companies' turf with voice-over-Internet services over their networks.

Bell has also been positioning itself recently to increase competition against the cable companies.

In December, Bell Canada said it would combine its ExpressVu direct-to-home satellite business and its emerging video-over-Internet initiative into a new group, headed by a former Sky Broadcasting executive.

It also announced plans last year to work with Microsoft to test and deploy TV services based on the new Internet Protocol TV, which will deliver Bell ExpressVu programming over the Internet.