Canadas Vidéotron, Partners Pull Plug on UBI


Montreal -- Le Groupe Vidéotron's interactive
'UBI' project, which has been supplying two-way television to 20,000 Quebec
homes, is dead.

Short for 'Universal, Bidirectional,
Interactive,' UBI was the brainchild of Vidéotron chairman André Chagnon. The
project used a combination of two-way cable, interactive analog set-top boxes and in-home
printers to service the Saguenay region.

The decision to kill UBI came after the UBI Consortium,
which funded the project, dissolved. In addition to Quebec MSO Vidéotron, the members
were The Hearst Corp., the National Bank of Canada, Hydro-Québec, Loto-Québec and Canada
Post. Vidéotron supplied the network and equipment, while the others paid for the online
services, which were offered to customers free-of-charge. The three-year trial cost the
consortium $C30 million ($US20.8 million).

UBI was a victim of its technology, which was designed
before the onslaught of personal computers and the Internet. Not only was it analog-based,
but the feed that reached subscribers 'was still, single images,' said
Vidéotron's director of public affairs, Sylvia Moran. 'We weren't talking
full video.

'We were working with a platform that we knew had
limitations, but we wanted to test content and service provision,' she added.
'By sheer mass of deployment, the Internet has become a standard' since UBI was
conceived, and 'a wider deployment with that kind of technology would not have been
... a good decision.'

Vidéotron is putting a brave face on the UBI cancellation,
describing the Saguenay rollout as merely a 'commercial test.' It was 'a
good pilot project for all of the partners and a test laboratory for service
providers,' Chagnon said in the Dec. 18 news release that broke the bad news.

However, UBI was, for a long time, Vidéotron's vision
of where it would go in the future. With the unexpected closing of the 'trial,'
the MSO isn't quite sure where to go next with interactive services, or even whether
to deploy them at all. 'We have to look at what happened over the past three or four
years and take a step back,' Moran said.

About 600 UBI terminals will remain in use after the
official shutdown, mainly as part of a Hydro-Québec home-energy-management program. The
terminals are also capable of accessing Vidéotron's 'Videoway' service,
which offers basic online games, multiple camera angles and text services.