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Should the BBC pay for our broadband?

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Last week, the head of Virgin Media, Neil Berkett, backed the government objective to use the BBC’s license fee to help fund the £530m investment in superfast broadband across the UK.

In what will be the first time the license fee has been used for anything apart from BBC-related projects, a £340m ‘top-slice’ from the BBC budget will be used to subsidise broadband development. With the BBC’s licence fee frozen at £145.50 until 2017, it is as yet unknown how such a cut to its budget will realign other traditional expenditures in both employment and programming.  One possibility may indicate steep cuts in services tailored to regional areas, Welsh language services and the World Service radio station.

Such a move would certainly be ironic – the so-called ‘superfast broadband’ roll-out is being funded so that rural areas whose local businesses are not equipped to connect to the fibre optic cables needed are not penalised. If key regional programming from the BBC (often the only provider of such services) is withdrawn, it will ultimately mean that these regions will be connected to the UK in one medium at the cost of another being withdrawn.

However, the BBC has been deflecting an increasing amount of the taxpayer’s fee to improving its internet abilities, a point Neil Berkett was keen to point out. Following his announcement of Virgin’s new 100Mb fibre optic broadband connection, he argued that many who live in rural areas do not have access to BBC content-rich services such as iPlayer:

“We are going through an evolving process here both in terms of the BBC and in terms of cutbacks, it is a changing landscape we are monitoring and watching,” he told the Guardian on Wednesday.

“It is absolutely appropriate [the BBC pays toward broadband rollout]. Every element of government spending needs to come under review. I think it is absolutely appropriate what the government has done.”

It was previously, and controversially, planned to charge a broadband tax’of 50p a month to UK residents, a move supported by the Lib-Dems at the time. However, following the election of the coalition government, the plan was steam-rollered and the BBC was told it would have to pay.

So who’s in the right? It is undeniable that, in a year that saw jobs and benefits cut and the cost of basic living rise, an additional tax would have been generally unpopular. However, should the BBC bear the brunt? The World Service is a globally recognised news channel, listened to as respected source of international journalism. Although these services may not serve the majority, the central purpose of the BBC is to safeguard the services that are essential but not commercially viable for other providers.

There is no doubt that connecting rural areas would help small business and bumper entrepreneurism outside cities. However, how comfortable the public are with a tax for one service being used by the government for another purpose remains to be seen. Many are concerned such a move could set a dangerous precedent when UK personal taxation is already the fourth highest in Europe, believing that the tax that is currently garnered ought to be used for its specifically intended purpose.

The argument boils down to asking ourselves what role we feel the BBC ought to play in our society. Is it a news provider, here to provide a balanced take on current affairs and ensure that programmes that aren’t necessarily commercially viable get their airing? Or is it a public service, whose primary role is to use the tax which funds it for the broadest distribution of benefit amongst the public it serves? I suspect the evolution of the BBC is leaning towards the latter as accountability for how our taxes are spent becomes increasingly in demand. We are now a nation wise to expenses, and demanding of transparency in the public sector. However, how these changes develop and what result it will have on the longstanding, institutional BBC is still yet to be seen.

  • vera summers

    Great idea at last we will be getting something tangible rather than wasting it on over paid Celebrities????

  • arthur everett

    I agree3 with it. The BBC has had too much money for far too long. Perhaps they won’t spend so much on drums now

  • Gnasher328

    It will turn the licence fee into just another tax. I don’t see why I should subsidise people playing ganes and downloading films when the net as it is is quite adequatwe for non media purposes. I suppose I could just ditch the TV and do everything online – hmm, tempting thought.

  • J.Finn

    Both licence monies and an appropriate residents tax should be used to cover the cost of nationwide free Broadband.
    The BBC must get rid of the obscene pay culture they have for “Stars and their own Executives”, especially.
    All performers should be paid only an appropriate salary for their employment ! As with the rest of us in the real working world!
    They would be more than well paid at ,say, £100,000 max per year -No matter what they do ! or how many shows! they appear on- £ 2,000 per week will more than cover their worth.Plus keep them in touch with reality.
    They should, out of their salary,have to cover ALL their own expenses. As ordinary people have to do!
    There should be NO Expense Culture as they all have now.-Free transport -Hospitality suites!-E.g. Sports Pundits -Guest on talk shows!- Certainly no need to pay them for their appearances!
    Just see how few would not appear for free.They need the publicity to earn a living anyway!
    Tell me why we should be paying Multi Millionaires such as Chris Evans, to appear on Radio and TV.The job he does could be equally well done by many people.For a pittance of the money he is paid!
    In fact most people who appear on the TV do not need to be paid anyway! !They would do it for free to get themselves publicity”as I point out above.
    -Any free publicity they get enables them to do work outside of the BBC and is an adequate reward!
    If they dont get work it is because they are not worth employing! or not star quality anyway!
    There are very few staff positions,at the BBC, worth more than £100,00 per annum salary!Certainly that specific in kind no-one else could do them!They are not indispensable !
    If they were all got rid of -Nothing materially would alter Nationwide!We would manage!
    From Director General to Cleaner- a re grading should be sorted with a fairer distribution of monies to all employees based on worth not self elevation.
    Time for the SHOW BIZ (Stars?) -Over paid EXECUTIVES –Gravy Train to done away with
    There would be enough monies spare from ALL BBC income then,to help contribute to the provision of a National Broadband System.
    John F.

  • mark smith

    It questions belief……. why use this monety to do this funding , when we already pay broadband providers for delivering a service , like any other company who delivers a service that we pay for. Surely it is down to the Broadband companys to pay thier own way to develop their systems.

    The Tv Licence , these days is awell out dated , tax , which wehn again looking at business they pay thier own way , unlike running like a charity , so in these modern times , BBC should generate thier own reveniew by adverising like other companys instead of relaying on this stealth tax to pay thier way, if we want to have pay TV we should be given a choice and pay for Virgin or Talktalk , they are are a business in effect we are apying twice.,

  • vic poole

    THIS MONEY WAS PAID FOR TV SERVICES- THE GOVERNMENT HAVE NO RIGHT TO STEAL IT. I SUSPECT MURDOCH IS BEHIND THIS IN SOME MURKY BACK-ROOM DEAL. THEY NEED OUR PERMISSION . THIS IS A
    POLITICAL CRIME

  • Angela King

    As always, the any debate around the licence fee is a rather contentious subject – the licence fee is a tax we are all forced to pay (unless we want to spend our evening sitting in silence. Or prison), so everyone feels strongly about how the money is spent – and I have always though the purpose of this fee was to deliver quality programmes.

    However, according to the BBC website a section of this fee (11% or £406m) is for ‘other costs’ which includes investment in new technology. This outlay is small compared to the money budgeted for TV (66% or £2,351m). It is all very transparent, and there is no ‘stealing’ of the licence payers money going on here.

    So, this budget would imply that the production of quality programming shouldn’t be affected by making this investment in superfast broadband – and it clearly IS an investment, not just a cost.

    I am in favour.

    However, I think that other channels should also contribute, as should the internet providers themselves.

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