The BBC’s decade-long Royal Charter is due to be renewed in 2028 and ministers are likely to back extending the existing model for the broadcaster – which relies on the annual TV licence fee. The digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) select committee has been looking into alternative funding models but appears to have thrown its weight behind extending the licence fee. But an expert said their conclusion was based on a faulty premise and pointed out the annual levy could be scrapped immediately.
Andrew Orlowksi claimed the DCMS select committee did not get an accurate technical analysis of how television works.
The founder of research network Think of X said MPs had been wrongly told an alternative subscription model could not yet be introduced, as it relies on universal high-speed broadband – something that won’t be available widespread for years.
John Whittingdale, who used to head up the committee, said last year: “The rollout of broadband is very fast, we will reach universal coverage, and there will come a time when it would be possible for us to move towards a full subscription service for everybody, but that time has not yet arrived.”
But Mr Orlowksi said it was “a very strange argument” that “simply isn’t true” – and said ministers shouldn’t have been so easy to believe the claim.
He said his research group Think of X has been able to dispel the argument that high-speed broadband is a pre-requisite for the BBC to move to a subscription model.
The expert said “conditional access” needs to be determined – which differentiates those who pay for the service and those who don’t.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “We investigated the tools and technologies that could introduce conditional access on modern TV hardware – and found that they’re largely already in place.
“Google even helped the TV industry develop some of them. That’s because today’s smart TV is essentially a computer that’s running apps.
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As a result, the researcher points out the TV licence fee could easily be scrapped and replaced tomorrow.
He said: “Rather than inflict two more decades of an anachronistic and unjust TV tax on a hostile population – and death by a thousand cuts on the BBC – let’s give the Ministry of Fun and Ofcom a Red Team to re-examine TV technology.
“Ministers could declare that they’re simultaneously saving the BBC, and abolishing the TV tax, and they could do it tomorrow.”
Earlier this week the DCMS concluded in a lengthy report “the licence fee remains the preferred option”.
The MPs said the shift to a different model in the UK would involve disruption and could allow opponents of the BBC to raise questions about its entire future.
A BBC spokesperson said in response to the report: “We welcome this thorough and detailed report.
“It is an endorsement of the crucial role played by public service broadcasters and the BBC as well as a clear call to build a strong future.
“We welcome the conclusion that the licence fee is the best way of funding a universal BBC.”