Understanding the Role of the BBC as a Provider of Public Infrastructure

27 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2017

Date Written: January 11, 2017


This paper explores the ways in which the BBC produces, sustains, and makes available resources that may be considered infrastructural. In the past, the BBC has been justified through appeals to the economic theory of public goods. Public goods theory is a useful place to start, but it is not enough. It fails to describe fully what role the BBC actually plays in British society. For example, some have suggested that since technology now makes exclusion relatively cheap (e.g., encrypted broadcast signals), content is no longer properly classified as a public good and the BBC’s role as public good provider should shrink because markets should no longer fail. This argument is flawed, however. Simply put, even with low cost exclusion, a host of market failures remain. For example, the market may under supply certain types of content (e.g. regional programming) because it is not sufficiently profitable. In this context, the BBC continues to plays a critical role in ensuring society is provided with a wide range of public and social goods that are underprovided by markets. To appreciate how the BBC helps to resolve these wider market failures, as well as providing a bridge between markets, government, and society, it is helpful to move beyond simple public goods theory and look to a recently developed economic theory of infrastructure. This theory considers infrastructure to be a special class of public good that has particular demand side features. Accordingly, this paper explains how the BBC produces and manages public infrastructure and how managing such infrastructure as a commons yields significant social value.

The paper is divided into three parts. The first part provides a brief explanation of infrastructure theory; the second part applies the theory to the BBC; the third part offers a few tentative suggestions for the future of the BBC as well as for future research and discussion.

Keywords: infrastructure, media, BBC, commons, spillovers, public goods, intermediary

Suggested Citation

Frischmann, Brett M., Understanding the Role of the BBC as a Provider of Public Infrastructure (January 11, 2017). Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 507. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2897777 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2897777

Brett M. Frischmann (Contact Author)

Villanova University - School of Law ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

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