The BBC and why Geo IP location is stupid

Submitted as a complaint to the BBC complaints service:

I am an Englishman living and working in Dublin, Ireland. As such, I receive BBC channels via my Sky subscription, including BBC One and Two. As you broadcast your channels free-to-air I can also happily receive BBC Three, Four, News, Parliament and all BBC radio stations via Astra on my Sky box. However because your use of Geo IP location means that you consider me to be, quite correctly, outside of the UK when visiting the BBC home page I notice that the TV Channels widget shows me:

* BBC World News
* BBC America
* BBC Prime
* BBC Canada
* BBC Kids (Canada)
* BBC Food
* BBC Arabic
* BBC Entertainment
* Animal Planet
* People+Arts
* UKTV Australia
* BBC Knowledge
* BBC Lifestyle

Which is about as useful to me as a chocolate fireguard. If I go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/tv/ then I see the same, with a small box at the bottom showing links to the regular BBC UK channels.

In the two years that I’ve been living all of 100km from the UK mainland (a gap, by the way, that your AM broadcasts manage to bridge allowing me to continue to listen to 5 Live in my car on the way to and from work!) I’ve become used to the complete and utterly indiscriminate nature of Geo IP location technology as used by the BBC to control access to content for the UK licence payer. I’ve become used to its use in sweeping editorial changes to the BBC News site meaning that I can no longer choose what news is most important for me (because, as currently displayed, the beheading of a teacher in the Philippines is NOT more important to me than the story about the DUP’s dismissal of PSNI reserve abolishment plans shown in the same position on the UK front page!) I also accept the fact that the provision of expensive services such as iPlayer should only be available to licence holders. What does boil my bag is the black and white decision making that this technology imposes. You are either UK or not, and if not then hey, the entire world is lumped together in one group who obviously share the same interests and access to services. One supposes that the very same technology that can tell you when somebody is accessing from within the UK can also tell you (at least as reliably) where they are accessing from when outside the UK. A little customization would go a long way.

You know, I shouldn’t really complain too loudly. You see, I appear to head through some magic portal on the way to work every day, for when I get to my industrial estate on the outskirts of Dublin I am seemingly transported magically back to the UK. I see the UK news; see the uk channels; hell I can even use iPlayer if I wanted to waste my employer’s bandwidth. Never has the sheer lunacy of an access control mechanism based SOLELY on the use of Geo IP location been so comprehensively proved to be stupid. Yes, as you may have guessed, the network connection of my Irish employer pops out onto the internet somewhere in the UK. When, when will you wake up and realise that for the sake of a few development pounds you could provide much more utility to your consumers. For that matter, when will you realise that people outside the UK pay good money to shonky VPN suppliers just to get access to iPlayer and therefore circumvent Geo IP location. I know that you may not be so used to such things with your public sector ancestry, but that is a POTENTIAL REVENUE STREAM for you to exploit. Start offering a subscription model. If Spotify can do it properly I’m sure the combined talents of the BBC can. I’d pay to be able to receive BBC services in the way I want.

Finally, whilst I am on a roll, maybe you could answer a conundrum that I’ve so far failed to resolve. It is a simple question: why do you not care that Sky can make money out of providing your two main channels to customers in Ireland completely legitimately by placing them on their EPG and advertising them without those customers paying as single penny to the BBC in licence fee? We are not dodgy costa-del-ex-pats using a viewing card registered to a UK address, we are legitimate customers availing of your most expensive programming completely for free. Or are we? How do you get your coin from such people? Do you get a percentage from the ROI licence fee? Do Sky pay you? Or is this simply a gaping hole in the policies you otherwise use Geo IP location to so strictly and unashamedly implement?

Yet more shady iPhone practices from O2 Ireland

Unless you live in a cave, you have probably seen that yesterday Apple announced the new iPhone 2 with 3G wireless, built in GPS and a few more features.

Now, the iPhone has been on sale in Ireland for a while now, and the way it has been sold by O2 Ireland has been a bit of a rip off to say the least. See my previous blog entry for more details.

So, with the release of the new iPhone, is this a chance for them to redeem themselves? Apple have stated the price for the 8GB version of iPhone 2 will be a maximum of $199 or the equivalent in another currency. The 16GB is a max of $299. So, what do we get when we go to o2.ie?

Well, first you get a latest news link:

iphone2_1.jpg

Clicking on the link takes you to their general iPhone page:

iphone2_2.jpg

Note the banner ad style item at the top of the page. No spec details. Does not link to anything. No pricing information. No register interest link. Nothing.

And what’s below? That’s right, their sales banner for the old iPhone. Yes, O2 Ireland are probably the only people in the world who are actually still selling the original 8GB iPhone, and for you, the lucky punter you can get it for just €299. That’s $463 at current exchange rates. But hey, you get free delivery. Oh and don’t forget this is still without Visual Voicemail, no free wireless deal and just 1GB per month of data. Want the beefier (but still old) 16GB phone? No problem – that will be €499 ($774) please.

Maybe the actual sales page highlights the fact that these are the old models which they clearly have too much stock of or something and are trying to shift before the masses clue in? Nope. Their details product page shows no actual detailed information about the phone at all. Visually there is practically no difference when viewing frontal shots of iPhone 1 or 2, and there is nothing on that page which states this is the old phone.

Never have I encountered a situation where the old phrase Caveat Emptor rings truer. O2 Ireland should be shamed for this attempt to cash in on the buzz generated by the announcement of the new iPhone. They could certainly learn from their sister company in the UK. They have been very quick to provide updated sales information with all trace of the old iPhone gone. In fact their deal look great and it will be very interesting to see how their pricing (8GB free on selected tarrifs, 16GB £99 on £45/month or above tariffs) compares with the eventual details from O2.ie. The latter deliberately tried to fleece their customers with the original iPhone, even by their own admission. I hold out little hope they will improve their behaviour.

Update:

So, the top banner ad now links to the this press release. Relevant details:

Tuesday June 10, 2008 O2 today announced that the iPhone 3G will be available in Ireland on July 11. The iPhone 3G device price will be subsidised and priced according to which of the existing three iPhone tariffs a customer chooses to sign up to. The subsidised device prices will start from just €49.

So, subsidised price, good…

iPhone 3G will offer faster browsing speeds on the move over O2’s HSDPA network. It will be available in an 8GB model and a 16GB model. The 8GB iPhone 3G will cost just €49 on the €100 monthly iPhone tariff, €99 on the €65 tariff and €169 on the €45 tariff. The 16GB iPhone 3G will cost €129 on the €100 monthly tariff option, €169 on the €65 tariff and €229 on the €45 tariff. All iPhone tariffs include anytime minutes, texts and a 1GB data bundle.

So, the tariffs remain the same. The base €45 per month tariff only offering 175 minutes and 100 texts. Still pretty paltry. The 1GB data limit still applies, and no mention of Visual Voicemail yet.

They have, to their credit, announced a wifi deal:

In a separate announcement today, O2 and Bitbuzz, Ireland’s leading Wi-Fi service provider, have agreed a new deal to provide O2’s iPhone customers with free access to Bitbuzz Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the country. The deal, which is for an initial duration of 2 years, will cover the provision of Wi-Fi internet access at all Bitbuzz locations in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – 155 in total. Under the new deal, access to the Bitbuzz service will be unlimited** for O2 iPhone customers,. Access will be available from July 11 2008.

This is good if you live in Dublin, not so good elsewhere. For instance, 93 of their hotspot locations are in the capital whilst the rest of the country is patchy at best. Still, I already get free Eircom wireless through my broadband account, so that’s no big deal. It does mean I would have even more wifi coverage were I to get an iPhone.

So, the million dollar question. Will I? Well, probably yes. The cost of entry is sufficiently low now. For the level of usage I have the €45 tariff is good enough and I’ll live with, but complain about the 1GB limit. I’ll be ordering a 16GB iPhone 2 come the first of July.

It’s still a bit rich to continue to sell the old phone so blatently without making it clear that people are not ordering the new one.