Ofcom holds on HD licence change

By Julian Clover
November 9, 2009 11.11 UK

Days before the launch of high definition services on the terrestrial Freeview platform, Ofcom has written to the BBC over the a variation in the licensing of the HD multiplex brought about by its ownership of service information contained within the so-called Huffman look-up tables.

In a letter to the BBC’s BBC head of distribution technology Graham Plumb, David Harrison, Head of Broadcast and New Media Technology at Ofcom says the regulator has received a large number of responses from consumers and consumer groups that raise “potentially significant consumer ‘fair use’ and competition issues”. The published responses are heavily weighted towards consumers with little or no correspondence from the receiver manufacturers or broadcasters who could be impacted by the plans.

Organisations including the Open Rights Group argue that the compression of key HD TV data including programme information that would restrict consumer use of devices and distort the market against the public interest. The BBC would restrict the licensing of the Huffman tables to manufacturers that adhere to the Digital Television Group’s Copy Management specification, although the DTG rules are not binding, the grouping is far from insignificant.

In his letter Harrison has asked the BBC how it proposes to address the potential disadvantages to consumers within the market and to set out possible alternatives. Should Huffman be introduced it should be done so without the need for a licence. In the meantime the corporation has been instructed to continue in transmitting the data in the clear.