TV licence to be scrapped after superfast broadband?

The battle between TV and internet might finally have a winner.

a blonde woman looking at the BBC news website on a desktop computer

Monday, 15 March, 2021

TV licence to kill

Last week the government suggested that the BBC TV licence fee cost could be scrapped if every UK household has superfast broadband.

The BBC has been in an uncertain position for the last few years. With many calling for the license fee to be scrapped because of changing times. Many argue that paying a TV licence to the BBC is unfair when they only use streaming services.

However, it’s easy to forget that the BBC isn’t just a TV or streaming service. The BBC produces TV, radio, news, weather and research. It’s also heavily regulated for impartiality, an invaluable feature taken for granted in a privatised news sphere. The BBC faces regular calls of bias from both sides which is probably a positive litmus test.


So why are some saying the license fee could be scrapped?

The BBC’s current funding arrangement ends in 2027, so conversations are already beginning about its future. Media minister John Whittingdale, says a subscription fee could replace the TV licence fee once superfast connectivity is widespread.

However, the government has failed to meet its pledge to get Britain superfast by 2025. The rollout has been reduced to only 85% by 2025, and it’s unclear if they will meet this either.

Young people are turning more and more to video-on-demand services. That does beg the question about whether or not the licence fee model, which has been based on the fact that everybody used the BBC, can continue…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.

- John Whittingdale MP, Media minister.

‘The BBC is too woke’

In a statement to The Times, the Media minister outlined some fairly hollow reasons for scrapping the license fee. Broadband coverage doesn’t replace a broadcasting, news and media service which generates jobs, revenue and world influence.

The argument that ‘not everyone uses it so why should they pay for it’ is a consistent Conservative party idea. However, it still doesn’t explain the logical leap in conflating all media serving the same purpose. 

In the last few years, several Conservative MPs have called for the TV licence fee to be scrapped. Though not because of changing habits, because the BBC has become too ‘woke’.

Taken at face value the media minister’s reasoning for BBC licence fee being scrapped makes little sense.  So reading between the lines, a political reason is probably more likely. 

The government faces considerable negative press for the handling of the COVID crisis and NHS management. Threatening the BBC’s royal charter status could be read as a threat for the BBC to be more favourable to the government. 

No alternative?

The Conservative party base is traditionally older voters. A group that is more likely to be negatively impacted by a BBC subscription fee. (Have you ever tried explaining Netflix to your grandparents?) So it’s jarring for a political party to express interest in a move unpopular with voters.

It’s likely that the TV license fee cost will be a source of debate for years to come. It probably isn’t ideal for the 21st century. A subscription-based model would bring some benefits, such as decriminalising fee avoidance. But are the currently proposed alternatives much better?

Natalie Dunning author picture


Natalie Dunning is a freelance writer and Media Psychology researcher based in Manchester.