11 January 2008

Hallelujah! An MP Who Groks IT

Many of the UK Government's fiascos - both old ones like the loss of 25 million bank details, or future ones like ID cards - could be avoided if there were people in office who understood IT. After all, the mistakes that are being made - allowing someone to download 25 million records and then send them through the post, or creating a centralised database of everyone's most personal details - aren't exactly subtle.

Alas, these people are rare, but one such is John Pugh, the Liberal Democrat MP for Southport. I've met him a few times, and always been impressed by his grasp of technical issues, and that is demonstrated once more in this letter to Mark Thompson, the BBC's Director-General, a copy of which has been passed on to me. It deals with the thorny matter of the iPlayer, and follows a meeting with Parliament's Public Accounts Committee:

It's worth quoting at length:

I do recognise that [the iPlayer] has an attractive interface,is user friendly and addresses digital rights issues so I stop short of suggesting the BBC has bought a lemon.

The more fundamental issue is its failure to apply open standards and be sufficiently interoperable to work fully (stream and download) on more than one platform. The BBC is funded by licence players not all of whom have or chose to use a computer running Windows XP or Vista. By guaranteeing full functionality to the products of one software vendor it is as a public body handing a commercial advantage to that company- effectively illegal state aid!
The aspiration to eventually ( you said within two years) remove this advantage- does not rebut this charge. A promise of amendment is never sufficient excuse for past sins or indeed much of an explanation.

Most major web based developments of any scale these days work on the presumption that interoperablity, open standards and platform neutrality are givens. It is not clear why the BBC design brief did not specify these requirements or if it did what technical problems-given the expertise available- hinder them being implemented.

So long as the I-Player is bundled in with Windows/Internet Explorer it continues runs the risk of breaching state aid rules - as the benefits it thereby bestows on Microsoft (with their somewhat blemished reputation for fair competition) come via the deployment of the public’s licence money. What might be a pragmatic choice for a privately funded company becomes deeply problematic for a public corporation.

I recognise and welcome the assurances that the BBC and you personally have given on this subject but wonder whether the sheer novelty of the new media has blinded many to the clear commercial inequity in the delivery of it.

Now all we need to do is make sure that John becomes Prime Minister....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hate tip for Becky


Mind the wording.