UK telecoms giant BT will next summer launch a claimed "world first [that will] place power in the hands of the viewer".

The project - a mass market TV service delivered to consumers via their domestic phone lines - has been a long time in the planning - well over a decade, thanks to the meddling of UK politicians back in the early 90s [30-Jun-05].

BT was barred from making the move by John Major's Tory [Conservative] administration, which imposed a ten-year ban on the TV-by-phone project following a successful eighteen-month pilot scheme in Colchester, Essex.

The ban, which many observers believe was imposed to placate US TV and cable interests, was ostensibly introduced to prevent BT - at the time a virtual monopoly - from stifling competition.

BT has not been twiddling its thumbs over the intervening years, pursuing project R&D in the light of developing technology and the exponential growth of the internet.

Rivals likely to feel the most heat from BT's venture are NewsCorp's BSkyB satellite monopoly and the about-to-merge US cable duo NTL and Telewest.

But BT Retail ceo Ian Livingstone insists BT is not gunning for its US rivals. Instead, he avers, BT is targeting a new market: "There are sixty million televisions in the country and only 10 million are connected to a pay TV service," he told The Guardian newspaper.

Nonetheless, Livingstone could not resist a dig at the opposition. "Customers tell us that they don't necessarily want to pay £40 ($71; €58) a month [a typical satellite/cable subscription charge]," he said.

The engine of BT's offering will be a Philips-manufactured set-top box, which will draw content from the internet and include a hard disk capable of storing eighty hours of programming. BT broadband customers will not have to pay a subscription to use the box, accessing content on a pay per view basis.

Although Livingstone is leery about the cost of the Philips box, he said it will be "considerably cheaper" than the average £160 price-tag on a Freeview hard-drive box. The BT service will also integrate voice and data services with TV broadcasts.

As an example of such integration, Livingstone gets all visionary: "You might be watching Champions League football and making a video call with a friend who supports the other team. At half-time, you can buy a [replica team] shirt and at full time vote for the man of the match."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff