The BBC is still refusing to release to the public the requirements specifications for Project Canvas, despite a formal condition of the BBC Trust in approving its participation in the proposed joint venture broadband connected television platform. The BBC Trust now says it does not believe that publication is appropriate at this stage, saying that it would not be in the interests of interested parties.

The aim of Project Canvas, as stated in the original application from the BBC Executive in February 2009, is “to create an open technical specification for internet connectivity to encourage the growth of internet protocol (IP) connections into set-top boxes.”

The BBC Trust approved the participation of the public service broadcaster in Project Canvas subject to the release of the completed elements of the specification with publication of any further changes on the BBC web site.

In publishing its final conclusions to a lengthy consultation on Project Canvas, the BBC Trust stated on 25 June 2010:

“First, this approval is conditional upon completed component documents of the Canvas core technical specification, to the extent not done so already, being released no later than 20 working days from publication of the Trust’s Final Conclusions. Further developments or refinements to the core technical specification must be published by the BBC on its website as they are completed and no later than eight months prior to launch of the first wave of set-top boxes.”

As yet, any documents have only been released in confidence to members of the Digital TV Group industry association.

In response to an enquiry from informitv, Phil Harrold, Head of Secretariat and Governance at the BBC Trust wrote on behalf of its Chairman, Sir Michael Lyons:

“The Trust does not believe that the release of documents outside of the DTG is appropriate at this stage. The specification is still work in progress and as such a wider release would not be in the interests of either members of the DTG or wider interested parties. However, the completed technical specification will be published in due course.”

Separately, informitv has made a formal request for the release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The BBC refused the request. On appeal, an internal BBC review dismissed all three grounds for the refusing the initial request but determined that the requested information was held with a view to future publication and could therefore be withheld. A formal appeal has now been made to the Information Commissioner, responsible for administering the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Given that the stated aim is to create an open technical specification, the BBC appears remarkably reluctant to release any details for public scrutiny, at least until the specification is completed.

Virgin Media has submitted a complaint to the communications regulator Ofcom, calling on it to investigate Project Canvas on the grounds that it is anti-competitive, restricts consumer choice and jeopardizes the future development of television in the United Kingdom.

The cable company says that far from their stated objectives of creating a set of open standards for the delivery of next generation television which anyone can adopt, the joint venture partners are creating a proprietary closed platform which they control.