The BBC: Under threat from competition


BBCThere's a proposal in the air to take about £130m out of the TV Licence Fee and use it for promoting broadband access in Britain. From the flurry of interviews and debates on the BBC's radio and TV channels, you would think this is the end of civilization as we know it. But it's just £130m out of a licence fee revenue that is twenty times that. So why the fuss?

The answer is that the BBC knows this is the thin edge of a fatal wedge. Already, money from the TV Licence Fee has been used to help the general conversion to digital television. Now here's another proposal which will also take some of it for other means of communication. If the BBC can't hold the pass now, it's slaughtered. Once the principle is broken, that the Licence Fee exists to fund the BBC, it will be open season on it. Scores of broadcasters will be pointing out that they too provide 'public service' broadcasting, so why should the BBC alone get a free ride.

And they're right. TV and radio channels should support themselves, through advertising or subscriptions, without imposing a regressive communication poll tax on the public. If you really believe that we need 'public service' broadcasting funded out of taxation, then fair enough – but it should go to the providers of that broadcasting on the basis of cost and quality, and should not be doled out exclusively to just one, particularly one that is so large and powerful, a real monopolist on the communications scene.

To be honest, I think that 'public service' broadcasting is mostly just a chance for politicians to preen themselves in public, so I wouldn't give it a penny. But if we're going to have it, let's buy it in from a range of suppliers and at least get the benefit of competition.