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Interactive TV not suitable for e-government services

Daniel Thomas
Analysts criticised the Government's investment in digital television last week, warning that interactive TV (iTV) will not be a suitable medium for the vast majority of public services.

The criticism came as it emerged that the Government's aim to launch its UK Online citizens' portal on all available iTV platforms was under threat because of bandwidth restrictions on Freeview, the replacement for ITV Digital.

Launching UK Online on digital TV is part of the Government's aim to have all public services available online by 2005. The citizens' portal has already launched on Sky and is preparing to roll out on cable channels NTL and Telewest.

However, early indications suggest that bandwidth restrictions on Freeview, jointly owned by the BBC and Crown Castle, mean that UK Online will not be carried on the DTT (digital terrestrial television) channel when it is launched.

Chris Tant, managing analyst at research firm Datamonitor, told Computer Weekly the Government should not be focusing on iTV platforms at all.

"I do not think iTV is a suitable medium for the vast majority of government services," he said. "Firstly, there are a number of technical limitations, such as the extremely limited bandwidth of DTT, and secondly, iTV is all about leisure and entertainment, not factual, dry public service programming."

A spokesman for the Office of the E-envoy, which is in charge of the UK Online initiative, insisted there was demand for government services on iTV. "It is appropriate for UK Online to be delivered on a range of platforms and devices," he said.

"We have been overwhelmed by feedback from thousands of members of the public who said they rate the service and like getting access to government services where they might not have been able to do so online."

However, Tant questioned whether there would be any demand from non-Internet users. "Even if you do not have the Internet at home you can get online in public libraries or Internet cafes," he said. "If someone does not want to access the Internet at all you have to question whether they will want to check social security information or book a GP via iTV."

Meanwhile, a Datamonitor report released last week predicted that consumer spend on iTV retail in Western Europe will exceed £4bn in 2006, equivalent to almost £60 per digital TV-using household.

Due to a high level of association with programming and their emotive nature, Datamonitor expects travel and media items to provide the greatest iTV retail opportunities and dominate consumer iTV retail spend.

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