Experts: BBC's plan to block Net access unworkable

Critics slam BBC's plan to segregate readers

The BBC's plan to block UK access to its international news site has been greeted with a mixture of criticism and derision from experts.

The corporation plans to launch an international news site -- BBCNews.com -- later this year which it claims is a response to government pressure to extend its World Service onto the Internet.

The BBC proposes to make the new international site accessible only to users outside the UK. This, it says, will maintain a distance between its publicly-funded and commercial services.

Both the existing and proposed sites will carry the same news content, with the latter funded by and carrying advertisements for its international-only audience.

At least that's the plan.

Technical experts dismiss the proposals as impossible, arguing it is not feasible to control access by geography. Ben Laurie, director of the Apache Foundation and one of the expert witnesses during the Yahoo! French Nazi auction trial says "it is not possible" to block users geographically. "They [the BBC] may hope they can but then management often think very stupid things," he says.

Laurie also thinks there are wider problems with the plan. "I am opposed to the concept that people should be restricted in what they can view. Knowledge should be universally available," he says. "Presumably the reason the BBC is doing this is not to stop UK users from looking at a site with adverts but to prevent Americans looking at an ad-free site."

Commercial broadcasters have long claimed there is an increased blurring between the BBC's public services and its commercial ones. The plan to launch BBCNews.com has been criticised by sparring partner ITN. "If it is a BBC Worldwide service then the BBC has to prove that it is paying a market rate for any content it takes from a publicly-funded site," says an ITN spokesman. "If it can't then the BBC has a major problem on its hands."

The BBC denies the proposed international site will be paid for with licence payers' money. "UK users won't be able to log on to the international site and vice versa," says a BBC spokesman, claiming that the technology to make this possible is "still being explored".

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