Thought for the day:Use TV licence fee for better broadband

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.Media guru Jonathan Miller's...

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.Media guru Jonathan Miller's announcement of his refusal to pay his BBC television licence fee and, furthermore, challenge this annual exercise in extortion in the European courts, set me thinking about the relationship between the licence fee and the Government's UK Online agenda - its grand plan for an information society.

Last year, I resigned as a director of dkTV, the public sector digital TV pilot, which had the BBC as its programming partner.

At the time, it became obvious to me that the project would run out of money very quickly unless the Government, in the shape of the Office of the e-Envoy, was prepared to help fund its second stage of project development. Without money it sank, leaving several local authorities looking embarrassed and yet another ambitious pilot was washed down the drain, losing the people, the ideas and experience with it.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights supports Miller's protest: "Everyone has the right to freedom or expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by a public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent states from requiring the licensing of broadcasting television or cinema enterprises."

So, as Miller points out, according to the BBC, the use of "radio telegraphy apparatus" without a valid licence to watch satellite television is a criminal offence. Does this not interfere with one's right to receive information as defined by Article 10?

So what's my point?

This is supposed to be an information society. I can watch television in my car or on my PC or even on a watch. The broadcast can be analogue or digital and can even include Web content or, as with dkTV, the ability to send an e-mail to access NHS Direct or call in a plumber.

So, why on earth is the UK, a supposedly advanced technological society, taxing "radio telegraphy apparatus"? The answer is that it can. For me this is utterly inconsistent with the Government's UK Online strategy, unless there is a political motive behind the support for the BBC. After all, the moment you view a live Web cam of a television feed without a TV licence, it might be argued that you are breaking the law.

The information revolution is bigger than the BBC, which appears to be accountable only to itself and its politically connected management. If the Government plans to offer the population the digital content and the multiple channel services that it deserves, then it's time to let people decide, like Sky, whether the BBC is worth paying for or whether the licence fee is better spent on a broadband Internet connection.

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Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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