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Culture secretary hints at license fee chop

Look forward to a future full of repeats
Tue Jul 20 2010, 16:30
Houses of Parliament

THE COMMUNICATIONS INDUSTRY is presumably wailing and gnashing its teeth as it waits for UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to decide on the future of the BBC licence fee.

Hunt hinted in the Torygraph that the price of the licence fee could be cut during renewal negotiations between his department and the BBC. This, however, might depend on whether the Beeb turns up and how vociferous it is.

A drop in the license fee might impact the UK Government's plans to roll out high speed broadband across the country, something that it is already watering down anyway.

While it had previously envisaged speeds so fast that websites would possibly open before you had even thought about searching for them, Hunt said last week that he though 2Mbps was fast enough.

Even then, he doubted that funds would stretch very far, particularly as telecoms firms do not seem very keen to look down the back of the sofa for any cash to spare him.

The telecom firms think that Hunt must find some £2 billion of public money to fuel his desires, cash that could be taken from the licence fee, but not from them, thankyouverymuch.

So, should the licence fee be cut, there is a distinct chance that this may affect plans to subsidise the rollout of fast broadband, something that Hunt might have forgotten about while he was opening his mouth and letting words spill out.

"The BBC should not interpret the fact that we haven't said anything about the way licence fee funds are used as an indication that we are happy about it," Hunt told the Telegraph. "We will be having very tough discussions."

Hunt might want to know why any money has been spent on the TV show Total Wipeout, and he might also wonder why Eldorado has never been repeated. Whatever his concerns are, he will push for a cut. Maybe.

Discussions will not start until the current licence fee settlement ends in 2012 or 2013, so perhaps the BBC could invest in a yacht to take the minister out on the sea in the meantime.

For now, Hunt's department is swaggering around, high on power, and full of promising sounding plans.

"The current licence fee settlement ends in 2012/13 and ministers will begin discussions next year about its renewal. No decisions about the level of the licence fee will be taken ahead of that," a Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson told our sister site V3 in a statement.

"Like all other public organisations, ministers expect the BBC to demonstrate that it is operating efficiently and giving licence fee payers value for money," they added, sending us back to the Iplayer for another look at Total Wipeout.

Antony Walker, CEO of the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG), told V3 that he would keep a close eye on proceedings in the hopes of providing a decent national broadband service.

"[The government] has indicated that it will review the case for funding in 2012 and indicated that the BBC licence fee could be a possible source of funding. Clearly the BSG will follow the licence fee negotiations with interest," he said.

Let's hope he has a three year, page to view diary. µ



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