For Shanghai residents TV cables do not just provide newscasts and soap operas anymore.
Beginning in early December, a total of 1 million households in the city will be able to surf the Internet, play online games, and custom-order favorite movies via their cable TV network, sources from the Information Office under the Shanghai municipal government said.
The services will be extended to all of the city’s 13 million inhabitants in the next few years to make Shanghai one of the world’s most wired cities, putting it on a par with Internet-savvy cities like Hong Kong and New York.
It sounds like a grand vision of the future, but concerns are surfacing about how far the interactive cable service, still a new concept in China, will go. Internet insiders wonder whether the residents will be willing to pay for the high price for it. Another big question is whether foreign companies will be given the opportunity to invest in the world’s largest urban cable TV network.
The experiment will begin in full once a giant renovation project that will allow interactive broadband services to be offered through the city’s cable TV network is completed.
“Renovation on cable TV lines servicing 700,000 households have been completed this November. This, combined with the 300,000 renovated last year, will add up to a total of 1 million pioneer households,” said Wu Xiaolei, spokeswoman for the Shanghai Cable Network Co, Ltd., the company behind the renovation project.
Wu told China Daily in an interview Wednesday that there are 3.1 million households in the city which are linked to the cable network and that intense efforts should be made to give all of those households broadband capability.
Right now, the households can use the services free of charge, as Wu said it will take time to spread the concept to the public. Wu did not say when the company will begin charging for the service.
But she did admit that price will be the top concern among resident users.
“Internet use has not even gotten close to spreading all over the city. High-income customers will be able to afford the service but it will take time to lure in low-income families,” Wu explained.
Despite these observations, analysts are tempted by the market potential. Interactive cable service has been billed as the next big thing in Shanghai. Many foreign investors, especially global media titans, are eying a slice of the market pie.
But right now, they are holding back their cards due to murky laws in China which are not clear about whether foreign funds can be involved.
The project was the first step in Shanghai’s vision to integrate its cable network, telecom network and Internet network into one platform whereby residents can make phone calls, surf Internet and watch TV via a single cable line.
(People’s Daily 11/30/2000)