Government approves BBC Digital Curriculum

The BBC gets the go-ahead to produce its digital curriculum, subject to a wide range of conditions. Will rivals respond with legal action?

The BBC's controversial digital learning plans have finally been approved by the UK government -- a move that is certain to enrage some commercial content producers.

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell announced on Thursday that the BBC would be allowed to go ahead with BBC Digital Curriculum, its £150m scheme to produce online educational material for a wide range of subjects.

However, the BBC will be subject to 18 conditions, which the government claims will ensure that its offering is distinct and complementary to online educational content produced by the private sector.

The Digital Curriculum has been fiercely fought by a number of small companies that already offer educational material on the Internet, who fear they will be driven out of business as a result.

"I've listened to the concerns of commercial providers of digital learning resources about the impact Digital Curriculum will have on the market. The industry is a rapidly expanding one. There is room for everyone," said Jowell in a statement announcing the decision.

"These conditions will prevent the BBC from dominating this market but it's right that it should play an important role in a competitive and growing market for digital learning resources," she added.

These conditions include obligations on the BBC to "innovate continually" and make use of its archive of existing content, and to work closely with the Department of Education and Science's online content advisory board.

In addition, the BBC will have to give unlimited access to third parties who wish to produce companion guides for its online content. All advertising promoting the Digital Curriculum will also have clearly refer to Curriculum Online -- the government's own Internet-based curriculum for schools -- and to other sources of online educational content associated with it.

The BBC will also have to produce annual plans for the Digital Curriculum scheme as well as an annual report on its performance -- which will be conducted by the BBC governors.

The service will be reviewed after two years, to ensure it is keeping to the conditions laid down by the government.

A report in The Guardian this week claimed that companies such as Channel 4, Pearson and Granada were likely to seek a judicial review of the BBC's charter if the Digital Curriculum was approved by the government.

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