Open Source Consortium Opposes Project Canvas

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Industry opposition to Project Canvas is mounting, after the Open Souce Consortium became the latest group to appeal to Ofcom

The UK’s Open Source Consortium – a trade body for companies that work in open standards software – has become the fifth organisation to lodge a complaint with communications regulator Ofcom, asking it to investigate the BBC-led Project Canvas.

In its communication with Ofcom, OSC said it believes the project will have “adverse consequences for the device and software sector, diminishing consumer choice and causing inevitable consumer harm.”

Other parties opposed to Project Canvas include United for Local Television, Six TV, Virgin Media and IP Vision.

BBC Trust approval

The BBC Trust gave its approval for Project Canvas in June, following a year of rigorous consultation, taking into account the value for money of the project as well as its market impact. The joint venture between the BBC, Arqiva, BT, Channel 4, Five, ITV and Talk Talk will enable broadband users get on-demand services through their TV sets via a £200 set–top box connected to the Internet.

In a statement on the decision, BBC Trustee and Chair of the Trust’s Strategic Approvals Committee, Diane Coyle, said: “The Trust has concluded that Project Canvas will deliver significant public value for licence fee payers – people with a broadband connection will be able to access a wide range of on-demand content including BBC iPlayer, free of charge, through their TV sets.”

However, rivals BSkyB and Virgin Media have long been opposed to the project, questioning whether the BBC should be involved in such a commercial service. In February, The Digital TV Group (DTG) – which represents more than 100 companies including BSkyB, Dixons, Freeview, Pace and Samsung – lodged a complaint with the BBC Trust, claiming that the project would be unable to produce an open, industry-wide technology standard which all members could work to.

“There remains widespread concern in the industry that there is a parallel process in place with a Canvas specification being developed between the Canvas joint venture and its innovation partners separately from, and regardless of, the DTG’s Connected TV specification work,” said the DTG in its submission to the BBC Trust at the time.

The opposition from industry members was not eased by rumours that Kip Meek, a former director at Ofcom and a board member of the controversial Phorm behavioural advertising project, might be appointed as chairman of Project Canvas.

But despite these concerns, the Office of Fair Trading said in May that it would not investigate Project Canvas over competition issues, as none of the partners was contributing a “pre-existing business” to the service.

Limiting choice

According to the OSC, Project Canvas will limit technology choice for consumers, “setting arbitrary access conditions and enforcing mandated branding decisions”. It also calls the BBC and its partners “discriminatory”, for creating an “unfair and unjustified barrier” to the consumer’s choice of software for content consumption.

“Project Canvas in its current form is going to lead to the BBC having unprecedented influence in the market for computer hardware and software. And not enough people seem to be worrying about the scale or impact of that,” said Gerry Gavigan, Chair of the OSC. “Project Canvas exceeds the BBC’s public service remit and should be prevented from further distorting the market for devices and software.”

Meanwhile, the BBC has published drafts of the basic technical specifications for Project Canvas. It is looking at supporting HTML4 and “a subset of HTML5”, as well as Flash Player 10, and will be built using the Linux operating system.

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