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Beeb shuts down Jam education website

Internet no place for free stuff, says EC

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The BBC has suspended its free online education website after complaints from commercial providers.

BBC Jam offered resources and assistance to school children aged five to 16 based around the national curriculum. It went online in 2006 and was rolling out service incrementally, aiming for full coverage in 2008.

The site has 170,000 registered users and employed 200 staff, whose future is now uncertain. The Jam budget was £150m, £45m of which was intended to be used for commissioning from independent private-sector companies. It was approved for launch by both the UK and European Union in 2003.

Following the fully-publicised "hard" launch of Jam last October, paid-for online education providers complained to the European Commission (EC) that the service was unfairly hurting their business. The Beeb had already planned a review of Jam's market impact for later in 2007, but the EC asked for a separate one.

Acting BBC chairman Chitra Bharucha said: "We have considered the European Commission's request – in light of industry's allegations of non-compliance – to subject BBC Jam to a separate review, in advance of that already scheduled for later this year. The trust's view is that two consecutive regulatory reviews would be unnecessarily bureaucratic and complex, with serious implications for delivery of the service to licence fee payers.

"Overall we have concluded that the best approach is to suspend the service in full now and request BBC management to prepare fresh proposals for how the BBC meets its public purpose of promoting formal education in the context of school age children.

"We regret the need to suspend BBC Jam during this process and apologise to its users, the BBC staff who have worked on the service to date, suppliers, and the independent production companies affected by this decision."

The Beeb is still required by its charter to promote education and learning, and the licence-payers have to cough up their £150m willy-nilly. Whether the BBC can actually deliver the service without upsetting commercial interests and the EC remains to be seen. ®

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