Publishers fear cost of net freebie

Educational publishers estimate that the BBC's plan to supply schools with free online learning materials would cost them pound;400 million in lost orders over five years.

The figure comes from a report by independent strategic consultancy SRU commissioned by the Digital Learning Alliance, a consortium of software firms and publishers including Granada Learning, RM, Oxford University Press and Reed.

According to the alliance, the finding adds weight to its call for the Government to reject the BBC's pound;170m digital curriculum proposal. The BBC must win approval from Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell before launching the service.

The companies fear that schools will simply stop buying software and online materials if the BBC is allowed to offer them free resources. The report states that the Government would need to provide at least pound;800m in ring-fenced funding to schools over five years to ensure a fair marketplace if the BBC's plan went ahead.

However, only pound;50m has been allocated to the "electronic learning credits" scheme for one year.

A public consultation on the BBC proposal closes on Monday. The information and computer technology advisers' association NAACE, which has been working with the Department for Education and Skills on Curriculum Online, is expected to urge the Government to increase funding for the learning credits.

DCMS public consultation website: The BBC's plans, 13

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