The move is designed to reduce the amount of illegal copying of high-definition TV shows, but it has been widely criticised as bad for consumers and competition.
The BBC proposed earlier this year that only high-definition devices with “content management technology”, otherwise known as anti-piracy technology, should be allowed use its Freeview HD Electronic Programme Guide, essentially giving those who do not employ such anti-piracy devices only half the service they are paying for.
Ofcom today accepted that proposal, strongly curbing people’s ability to copy and share high-definition content. It has no effect on standard definition content.
Ofcom has tried to spin this as a good move for UK citizens that will bring them more content and warned that “more intrusive alternatives” could have been employed, such as complete encryption of content, which would have made recording TV programmes almost impossible.
The move will allow the BBC to alter its Freeview multiplex licence and Ofcom has said it will be offering set-top box manufacturers the new license free of charge. It also said that those who currently have a set-top box will not be required to buy a new one, but this is of little consolidation to consumers forced to “upgrade” to a more limiting device.
“This is a serious blow to UK licence-payers, who will be forced to buy non-standard equipment that does less at a UK premium price,” Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group told the Guardian. “Ofcom’s remit is to protect consumer interest and competition. They have failed to do either. The USA’s regulator rejected such restrictions, because of the barriers to innovation and trade. The UK should be doing the same.”