U.S. Engaging BBC to Combat Foreign Blocking of TV, Internet

The broadcaster is to develop anti-jamming technology and software and educate people in countries where the media is regulated.
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The U.S. government has negotiated a deal with the BBC for the British broadcaster to help combat the blocking of television and Internet services in countries with state censorship, including Iran and China.

Under the agreement, the broadcaster is to develop anti-jamming technology and software and educate people in countries where the media is regulated, how to circumnavigate the blocking of Internet and TV services. The United States selected the BBC for the assignment because of its global reach, according to the broadcaster.

The deal, which has yet to be signed, is expected to be formally announced on International Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2011, and follows an increase in incidents of interference with BBC World Service output across the globe, according to Jim Egan, the BBC’s controller of strategy and business.

BBC Persian television, which launched in early 2009 and airs in Iran and its neighboring countries, has experienced numerous instances of jamming. The BBC Arabic TV news service has also been jammed in recent weeks across various parts of North Africa during the recent uprisings in Egypt and Libya.

“Governments who have an interest in denying people information particularly at times of tension and upheaval are keen to do this and it is a particular problem now,” Egan said.

The BBC World Service is also expected to use the U.S. money to continue with its development of early warning software, which will allow the broadcaster to detect jamming sooner than it now does. Currently, the BBC is dependent on reports from users on the ground.

Such software “helps monitor dips in traffic which acts as an early warning of jamming, and it can be more effective than relying on people contacting us and telling us they cannot access the services,” Egan said.

The U.S. funds will also help the BBC combat Internet censorship by establishing proxy servers that give the impression a computer located in one country is in fact operating in another, thereby circumnavigating attempts by repressive governments to block websites.

China has become quite expert at blocking websites and one could say it has become something of an export industry for them, a lot of countries are keen to follow suit, according to Egan, who added there is evidence Libya and Egypt were blocking both the Internet and satellite signals in recent weeks.