RTÉ figures to explain in Assembly why online content is blocked in the north

SENIOR RTÉ figures will appear before an Assembly Committee today to explain why some northern viewers have been blocked from accessing its online content.

Three RTÉ personnel are expected to attend the meeting of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee this morning.

Although some content - such as sport - is blocked outside the Republic due to legal rights, at present other programmes on the RTÉ player are inaccessible for some northern web users whose devices are often linked to locations in England.

In its public service statement, RTÉ promises to "provide for and be responsive to the interests, needs and concerns of the whole community on the island of Ireland."

Last year RTÉ pledged to "explore" why northern viewers attempting to access the RTÉ Player were being directed to the international version of the app and asked to pay a €120 subscription.

The DETI committee also wrote to the European Regional Internet Registry to request a separate IP address for Northern Ireland, but Ofcom, the communications regulator, appeared to pour cold water on the suggestion in a report and the idea was never pursued.

IP (internet protocol) addresses are numbers used to identify and locate computers or devices involved in online traffic.

Ofcom said: "Such a process could be an inefficient way for internet service providers to manage what is a finite resource and would be costly to implement. As such it would remain a commercial decision for each ISP."

An Ofcom report last summer stated: "Our enquiries have not identified issues that would suggest that formal intervention by Ofcom would be appropriate. We are therefore acting in an independent advisory capacity."

In a letter to the DETI Committee last January, communications provider TalkTalk ruled out "ring-fencing" IP addresses in Northern Ireland.

A TalkTalk representative wrote: "We are concerned that ring-fencing of IP addresses could be seen as a form of unequal treatment."

Chairman of the DETI committee, SDLP Mid-Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone, said: "We were sending letters backwards and forwards to RTÉ about this issue which wasn't much use.

"RTÉ say it is an all-Ireland service and we decided it would be better to invite their representatives to appear at the committee and see what they could come up with."