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Residents Reach Interactive Television

While millions of Chinese people have to make do with ordinary TV shows, Lina Yan is able to enjoy Hollywood movies using cable television. Yan can even find her favorite music, fashion and travel tips via the TV, check her e-mails from the office and do some home shopping.

"It is so fantastic and such a new way of life," said Yan, who works for a multinational consulting firm in Shanghai.

A total of 1 million households in Shanghai are now able to log on to interactive services through their TVs. City authorities involved in the project promise more households will be able to have cable soon.

But not everyone is happy. Residents are not sure whether they are ready for the service, citing concerns about high charges, low Internet penetration and poor content.

Although households can use the services free of charge at the moment, analysts said operators will start to charge in the future to recoup their investment.

According to a recent report by a local computer weekly magazine, the billing package may include an installation fee of 2,000 yuan, with service fees of 200 yuan per month. "I know it is a high-tech thing. But for me, it is a luxury," said Yu Min, a 50 worker at a State-owned chemical plant.

Yu said he earns only 1,000 yuan (US$120.8) a month and his wife, who is retired, only gets 730 yuan a month. "I will not be able to afford the bill," he said.

"It will be hard to persuade low-income and poor families to pay for the service. The traditional mentality of saving rather than spending is still rooted in society," said a local telecom market watcher, who declined to be named.

Hotly debated medical reforms in Shanghai that will led to individuals spending more on health bills as State help is dismantled, coupled with unemployment problems among state-owned business, has forced residents to tighten their belts.

Cable services can easily win the hearts of the young, but they are not so popular with other age groups.

"The interactive service will be less attractive among senior citizen, as most of them do not know how to use the Internet," said Wang Yan, a local Internet watcher. A recent report found 80 percent of the city's Internet users are less than 35 years old.

"My grandmother does not want to use the service. She says cable TV can provide enough programmes and it does not make sense to get a web-connected TV," said Zhu Chengpei, a 22-year-old university student.

Other residents remain unconvinced about interactive services, citing lack of attractive features and uniform standards of the services.

But some cannot wait. "I am anxious to know when I can get the service at home. I am very envious of my classmates who brag about surfing the Internet via cable TV. I can not wait to be one of them," said Ying Wenshu, a middle school student.

The Information Office of Shanghai municipal government has opened a website --www.cableplus.com.cn -- to let people know more about the services.

(China Daily 12/06/2000)

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