Tories could use BBC Licence Fee to fund broadband

The Conservatives yesterday underlined that they would kill off any Independently Funded News Consortia schemes by saying they could instead use “top-sliced” BBC licence fee cash to pay for “superfast” broadband.

The Government has indicated that the 3.5 per cent of the licence fee, £130m a year currently allocated towards paying for digital switch-over, could be used to fund a series of local broadcast news services to replace ITV1 bulletins after 2012.

Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said last month: “Using the licence fee to prop up regional news simply casts a failed regional TV model in aspic. It would actively prevent the emergence of new, local media models, making broadcasters focus their energies on satisfying politicians not reaching viewers.”

He said the Conservatives would do all they can to kill off the Independently Funded News Consortia pilot schemes in Scotland, Wales and the Borders region of England, contracts for which are due to be awarded in May.

Yesterday the Conservatives revealed that they would use “market-based solutions” to make the UK the first major European country with broadband speeds of up to 100 mega bits a second.

They said they would allow private investors to pay for better cabling and end BT’s “local loop” monopoly.

If the market does not deliver, then the 3.5 per cent of the licence fee currently used to pay for digital switchover could be diverted to pay for broadband expansion – the Conservatives revealed.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne said on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show yesterday: “In the 19th Century we built the railways. In the 20th Century we built the motorways.

“In the 21st Century let’s build the super-fast broadband network that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs for Britain.”

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