BBC licence fee 'to be used for fast internet broadband'

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The Independent Online

Plans to install "super-fast" internet broadband in every British home will be partly funded by the BBC licence fee, according to a senior Liberal Democrat.

The coalition would drop the previous government's plans for a so-called "broadband tax", a 50p monthly levy on every phone line, and instead use some of the annual £145.50 licence fee to fund the nationwide roll-out of faster internet. It will be the first time that the licence fee has been used to fund anything other than the BBC, in what has been called "top-slicing".

In another proposal, the salaries of the BBC's highest-paid presenters, such as Graham Norton, could be made public for the first time under plans to force the Corporation to make its entire accounts available to the National Audit Office.

The measures were revealed yesterday at a media industry conference in London by Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' former spokesman for Culture, Media and Sport. Mr Foster has not been given a ministerial role in the Government, but said that the proposals discussed by the department during his time in office would soon be revealed as policy.

The Government is expected to announce the appointment of a broadband minister by the end of this week, widely tipped to be Ed Vaizey, who has already been named as a junior minister in Jeremy Hunt's Department for Culture, Media and Sport. On Monday, Downing Street announced its public media policy would be published within the next two weeks, but a department spokesman refused to be drawn on Mr Foster's comments.

The revelations were made during a Question Time-style panel discussion at the annual Broadcast and Beyond conference held in London. The panel, was asked how the coalition would tackle BBC funding.

Mr Foster said: "I can tell you that the independence of the BBC will be maintained, but the sixth objective of the BBC Trust is going to be reviewed, which means the BBC is going to have to cough up for broadband roll-out."