The BBC was founded as the British Broadcasting Company in 1922 and was renamed the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1926 once it had obtained its royal charter; it was delivered through the General Post Office both resident inside the Home Office. It was essentially a radio (wireless) service with naturally the Home Service (now Radio4), the quaintly named Light Programme (Radio2) and the Third Programme (Radio3). Today, the BBC receives over £3.5 billion a year for its increasingly unpopular licence fee.
The internet is over 40 years old; it began as a delivery service to connect scientist working on nuclear issues in a restricted number of US universities. Soon, other universities were asking to be connected and so a second service was opened up. In the 1980s it was suspended in cyberspace. In 1992 Tim Berners-Lee created the modern version of the net – the World Wide Web – using HTML. Netscape introduced the first browser in 1994-5 which changed the nature of the web. Today, there is no equivalent of the BBC for the internet in the UK.
Instead, what we have is the BBC spending inordinate amounts of licence fee money on endless different web sites. They spend more than either Yahoo or Google on their sites which is largely ignored in the UK media space. By contrast, the smaller but more innovative Channel 4 (C4), has spent around £5 million p.a. helping and directing web enabling products and services. ITV’s only foray into the net aside from its own web site was to buy, for reasons not exactly obvious, Friends ReUnited for £120 million. They failed to exploit it as a social network or as a stand alone television product and were grateful to sell it on for a staggering loss of £80+ million.
We need a Public Service for the Internet. The closest we have come to this has been the Government’s own www.direct.gov.uk
site. Serious thought should be given to allowing C4 to run it and to develop a whole range of tools for the third sector.