Page last updated at 06:53 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 07:53 UK

BBC licence fee 'could be shared'


Stephen Garrett from Kudos, the firm behind Spooks and Ashes to Ashes, warns that illegal file sharing could kill off quality TV shows

The BBC could be made to share part of the television licence fee with commercial rivals under government plans to be announced later.

The Digital Britain report will suggest ways to help companies like Channel 4 cope with the impact of the internet.

It is also expected to include plans to tackle illegal file-sharing and to bring broadband to the whole country.

Gordon Brown said fast internet was now "an essential service, as indispensable as electricity, gas and water".


In October 2008, Minister for Communications Lord Carter began work on a plan aimed at securing the UK's place at the head of the new media age.

Among 22 specific actions announced in his interim report in January was a commitment to establishing a universal broadband service for every home and business by 2012.

Writing in the Times newspaper on Tuesday, the prime minister reaffirmed his commitment to that "transformation".

"Digital Britain cannot be a two-tier Britain - with those who can take full advantage of being online and those who can't," he said.

'No monopoly'

As well as looking at opportunities, the Digital Britain report will also try to tackle threats presented by new technology.

'Universal Music chairman Lucian Grainge says failure to reduce illegal downloading could destroy established media.

Local newspapers and television stations have both suffered significant losses in revenue thanks to the internet, but Mr Brown insisted their journalism must be protected.

"We cannot allow a monopoly to take root," he wrote.

"We also need to help Channel 4 to secure its future... it now requires long-term stability to develop as a truly global player."

The BBC's media correspondent Torin Douglas said Lord Carter believed the licence fee could be a possible answer to the woes of commercial broadcasters.

At present, more than £100m a year is earmarked to help the elderly switch to digital TV and any left over could help pay for wider broadband access or local news on ITV, our correspondent added.

But the BBC Trust has said that if any money is left over from the digital switchover, it might be better returned to licence-payers.

Piracy clampdown

Virgin Media chief executive Neil Berkett says ISPs must offer viables alternative to illegal downloads.

Meanwhile, Stephen Garrett, executive chairman of Kudos productions - the makers of Spooks, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he hoped the report would signal the introduction of legislation obliging internet service providers (ISPs) to tackle illegal file-sharing.

"We've been asking them nicely and so far they've declined," he said.

He went on to accuse the ISPs of "sitting idly by while money was haemorrhaging out" of the creative industries.

He wants to see ISPs send threatening letters sent to those involved in piracy reminding them that what they are doing "is theft" before their bandwidth is "squeezed", preventing them from continuing with their activities.

But Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of the ISP Association, said there were film and music licensing issues to be resolved before an effective clampdown on illegal file-sharing.

We also need to help Channel 4 to secure its future

Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Problems included the fact that some films were marketed across the globe but then released in the US before the UK, he told the BBC.

"Until we do that it's difficult to offer people the stick before the carrot."Those downloading films and music were also the ISPs' paying customers, he said.

"We shouldn't make criminals of them," he added.

The announcement on Digital Britain will be made in Parliament at 15:30 on Tuesday.

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