Following a lengthy public consultation, telecoms regulator Ofcom has decided to allow the BBC to limit the availability of HD content from itself, ITV and Channel 4 to those Freeview HD receivers that have built-in DRM (digital rights management) technology.
Given that the content is free-to-air and broadcast unencrypted, the Beeb will impose these restrictions on the service information data that EPGs (electronic programme guides) need to recognise what's being broadcast.
The decision has been made following claims by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 that they would find it harder to get hold of some HD content without DRM protection. "Ofcom has concluded that the decision to accept the BBC's request will deliver net benefits to citizens and consumers by ensuring they have access to the widest possible range of HD television content on DTT," said the Ofcom announcement.
However, there is concern that this move will inhibit the uptake of Freeview HD and restrict innovation in equipment, not to mention imposing restrictions on access to content which, in the case of the BBC, we already own by virtue of paying the licence fee.
"Ofcom have today dealt a serious blow to UK consumers and licence-payers by allowing the BBC to impose DRM for HD broadcasts," said Jim Killock - executive director of the Open Rights Group - in a blog post. "Their decision will force them to buy non-standard equipment that may only work in the UK.
"They accepted the spurious argument that HD content may not be provided in the UK without copy protection - despite the fact that unencrypted broadcasts occur in every other major HD market. In addition, the BBC has failed to name a single programme that would be withdrawn without the application of DRM to its broadcast."
The decision coincides with Virgin Media's public objection to how much control the BBC wants to impose on users of Project Canvas IPTV technology, and the two issues seem related. Despite being a non-commercial public service, the Beeb is starting to behave rather more like a rapacious private enterprise. You can see the full Ofcom statement here.