Are government services anti-competitive?.
Dismay as BBC Gets E-learning Go-ahead. No bias in this headline! The BBC has won the right to provide free digital educational resources to schools, as it should. The thought of making it illegal for a government to provide resources to its own schools is ridiculous. Sure, industry calls it "anti-competitive," but by this logic any government service (into which industry decided it would like to offer its services) is anti-competitive. Sorry, it doesn't wash. Industry doesn't have the right to prevent a people, acting through their government, to provide for themselves. By Richard Agnew, NetImperative, January 9, 2003 [OLDaily]
Not all government services are this lucky. For instance, PubScience was killed because members of the Software & Information Industry Association lobby didn't like competing against it. [Seb's Open Research]
Strictly speaking, the BBC is not a government service. It is arguable that the BBC licence fee is hypothecated central taxation - but the fee is not collected by the government, it is collected by the BBC (I think by a private sector company under contract to the BBC). You only have to pay the BBC if you have a TV - so the definition of "the people" is debatable here.
The sums of money here are significant as to whether the BBC is anti-competive. Until a year ago, the average annual spend on software in the UK schools sector was approx £35m [corrected 23/1 from £25m - its very complex, more detail can be found here: The Market Size for Online Learning Resources (Becta, pdf format) (the BBC has been one of many suppliers competing for this money for many years) - the BBC was/is now intending to spend £30m a year on the production of free content. Since this is spend on the production/distribution costs only (advertising is free to the BBC on its many outlets) it would produce more than the current purchasing (purchasing is limited by cash supplied by government, which consequently limits supply). It is easy to see that schools would shift its £25m spend onto other things (like fixing the leaking roof) and take the free content - overnight the BBC is not a competitor it is a monopoly provider.
Its not a question of whether Industry has rights, its a question of whether having the BBC as the sole provider/commissioner of content/software to education is a good thing.
In an attempt to reduce the possibility of monopoly the UK govt has significantly uprated the spend available for software to approx £100m per year. However, this money is heavily ring fenced and may only be spent on 'approved' suppliers. It is highly likely the £100m won't be spent (good news for the government) and still begs the question of what happens after 3 years, does the spend fall off a cliff again, once more leaving the BBC.....
All the money in this system is 'tax' money. From the goverments point of view, a BBC monopoly is a jolly good thing. They can then stop funding schools purchasing software from central taxation and leave it to the BBC license fee, which they then approve hikes in - its not a tax raised by the goverment, they are simply allowing a request from the BBC. Which is free here, and to whom - the government:
- pays someone (either an employee or other company) to produce some software and gives it to the schools or
- gives the money to the school and they pay someone or
- allows a company to raise money, which then pays someone (either an employee or other company) to produce some software and gives it to the schools
In which of these scenarios are the 'people providing for themselves'?