The increasing importance of the internet to phone and cable TV operations was highlighted Wednesday with announcements from leading companies in communications and banking.

In Vancouver, a phone company is building capacity to deliver satellite TV, while a cable company is entering the local phone market.

And in Toronto, the dominant phone company said it is bringing internet phones to 8,400 lines at the Royal Bank's head office. The deal could give Bell Canada a foot in the door at Canada's largest bank., which has 53,000 lines across the country.

Internet telephones hold out the prospect of cost savings for users, and the internet is pushing the convergence of phone and TV services as all digital information, from TV shows to phone calls, can be delivered on the same line.

Both cable and phone companies are now pushing multiple uses of their lines, putting them into head-to-head competition in what used to be discreet markets.

Converting the Royal Bank's lines to Bell Canada's voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) "will make a direct contribution to our productivity," said Dick Swadley, head of internet technology infrastructure at RBC.

The Toronto head office represents "a large chunk of our current voice communications expense," but the bank is not prepared to publicly estimate the savings, said senior telecommunications manager Bob Matthews.

Large financial services companies with their extensive telephone systems are targets for phone companies, and Bell has signed internet deals with two other big companies, Manulife and the Bank of Montreal.

Shaw, Telus square off in Vancouver

Telus, the leading phone company in Western Canada, said Wednesday it is building a $15-million satellite and content distribution centre near the B.C. Fraser Valley so it can launch Telus TV this summer.

The B.C. service, which follows the company's TV offerings in Calgary and Edmonton in late 2005, will include more than 200 video and audio channels initially, expanding to more than 300 within a year, Telus said.

"In addition to the range of local programming we are all familiar with, we will be offering feeds from stations in Eastern Canada and the United States to give customers the option of viewing programs three hours earlier, as well as a broad range of multicultural and specialty programming," said Fred Di Blasio, Telus vice-president of consumer product marketing.

Meanwhile, the cable and cellphone company Shaw Communications said it is launching its local digital phone service in Vancouver.

The city is the fifth launch for the company, which now covers all Shaw's major markets in Western Canada – Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Victoria. The service is available to 1.7 million homes passed by the company's broadband network.

Shaw has 90,000 digital telephone customers and hopes to more than double that this year, CEO Jim Shaw said.

The phone service is part of Shaw's "triple play," which offers consumers a bundled package of services including phone, internet and TV.

The Vancouver service will be extended to nearby Burnaby, Richmond and the North Shore in April, and then to other suburbs, Shaw said.