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TOKYO -- Japan's FamilyMart Co plans to link the firm's head office with its 6,500 convenience stores through a fiber-optic network starting in September 2006 to sell movies, music and other digital content, company sources said. Besides letting customers download films and music, dedicated terminals at FamilyMart stores will also allow them to fill special cards they have with electronic cash.

The planned broadband service will boast throughput more than 300 times that of the ISDN service of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., which currently operates similar online terminals at FamilyMart stores. The company will also introduce new cash registers with 15-inch displays that show commercials and news programs to customers. By touching the displays, shoppers will be eligible to win discounts on the spot.

The fiber-optic network will also be used to enhance the efficiency of store operations. The headquarters will be able to keep tabs on each outlet's inventory to make sales plans and will consider sharing the information with product suppliers to help them adjust their output. FamilyMart may also use the network to have workers take online vocational training courses.

While rival convenience store operators such as Lawson Inc and Three F Co use online sales terminals, mainly to purchase tickets and place orders for goods, they do not use broadband telecommunications. Seven-Eleven Japan Co and its affiliates in the Ito-Yokado Co group, however, are now spending some 30 billion yen to set up an online fiber-optic network.

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