A Canadian telecommunications providers is hoping to get more bang for the bucks it invested in its commercial ADSL network by offering interactive television services.

SaskTel Thursday launched Max Interactive Services, a

set of packages that can include unlimited high speed Internet access, four e-mail addresses, more than 20 digital television stations, 30 music channels, Saskatchewan AM and FM radio stations, a set-top box and free installation, for $59.95 per month.

SaskTel president Don Ching said interactive television would support a high-speed computer and two televisions, either of whose feeds could access the Internet. Though this can be a more cumbersome process than using a PC, Ching said, the service could appeal to some members of the family who are put off by traditional hardware. “”It probably is a more comfortable method of accessing the Internet than the computer.””

SaskTel launched its ASDL network in 1996. Even then, Ching said, the company knew it would have to offer more than high-speed Internet access. Interactive television is a way of layering on additional value and increasing its revenue stream without repeating the capital costs it has already put into its infrastructure.

SaskTel is using software from St. John, N.B.-based iMagicTV. Rob Begg, the company’s director of marketing, said incumbents like SaskTel are a natural for interactive television, given the built-in audience they have established through their telephone services.

“”They have the consumer relationship, they already have a basis to build on,”” he said. “”They’re the ones that have the long-term commitment to the residential market, who, really, TV was made for.””

On the other hand, Ching said incumbents sometimes face a marketing hurdle when they try to expand beyond their roots.

“”We are challenged to convince people that SaskTel is a state-of-the-art, high-speed Internet technology company as well as a traditional voice product,”” he said. “”But we’ve always had that problem. I mean, when we first went into cellular, there were people that sort of blinked their eyes at us being involved in that.””

Begg agreed, but added that recent history has proven telcos capable of branching out.

“”A lot of people have the basic concept of the company being wireline voice,”” he said. “”If you look at where telcos have gone in the last 15 to 20 years, they’ve added Internet services so they’ve become ISPs . . . the value for a consumer is a bundle, being able to get multiple services from one provider.””

Ching said customers have kept the bar considerably high, even if they accept SaskTel’s broadened portfolio.

“”Those people are very loyal to us, but they’re also very quick to draw us up short if we don’t meet their expectations,”” he said. “”More than once, I’ve had somebody phone me from their combine, their farm truck from their workplace to tear a strip off my tender backside because they don’t think SaskTel is performing up their expectations.””

SaskTel’s Regina customers can purchase the packages immediately, while Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Yorkton, Swift Current, Weyburn, Estevan and North Battleford (including Battlefords) will be added later this fall.

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