BBC Internet services labelled anti-competitive

Media association feel the BBC has unfair advantage over other Net content providers

The BBC's Internet business was labelled "anti-competitive" by media association BIPA (British Internet Publishers' Association) Wednesday.

BIPA gave evidence yesterday at the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which is conducting an enquiry into the future funding of the UK's favourite auntie. BIPA members feel the BBC has unfair advantage over other Net content providers and is using license payers' money to subsidise its commercial Internet activities.

BIPA co-ordinator Angela Mills wants the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the BBC. "We think the Office of Fair Trading needs to look at what the BBC is doing. There has to be a way of deciding what is public and what is commercial. At the moment the laws are just anachronistic," she said.

Currently BBC Online is the only Internet property under the public service arm of the BBC Online. Both Beeb.com and Freebeeb are part of BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC. BIPA believes there is too much cross-promotion and cross-subsidy between the two.

BIPA member and managing director of ISP LineOne Ajay Chowdhury believes the BBC's commercial site Beeb.com should not automatically get access to BBC shows. "When the Top Gear Web site was created it went to Beeb.com. We think BBC brands like this should be put out to tender if they are to become commercial property," he said. Chowdhury also questions the justification for setting up the freebeeb ISP. "I am not saying the BBC shouldn't be on the Internet, that would be ridiculous. But as a public service they should be putting up content that no commercial site is doing. In the ISP market there is no market failure and no justification for setting up freebeeb," he said.

A BBC spokesman denies there is any need for investigation. "The BBC is subject to more regulatory oversight than any other broadcasting organisation. The Office of Fair Trading has never brought a challenge to us or questioned that we are breaking any rules," he said. He reiterated the BBC's commitment to public service. "Over half of the visitors to BBC Online are looking for impartial news and over a quarter visit our education sites. We believe it is our role on the Internet to expand the horizon of the technology and exploit its creative assets." he said.

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