Well, well. This is embarrassing.
After numerous commentators, the TV Licensing Blog included, saying that the Government was about to suck it to the BBC, it appears the Culture Secretary has developed last-minute collywobbles.
Speaking earlier today, John Whittingdale MP outlined a watered down version of his vision for the future funding of the BBC.
Broadcast magazine, one of our favourite periodicals, has helpfully summarised the key points as follows:
1. The BBC has agreed to shoulder the £650m annual bill of the "free" over-75 TV licence. Some 4.5m UK households are eligible for an over-75 TV licence, by virtue of the fact that at least one occupant meets the age requirements. Under current arrangements the Department for Work and Pensions covers the cost. The BBC will begin shouldering some of the cost from 2018/19, before footing the full bill in 2020/21.
2. In a shock move, the Government has agreed that the cost of a TV licence will increase in line with the CPI rate of inflation. The annual fee has been frozen at its current level, £145.50, since 2010 and it was widely expected the freeze would continue into the new BBC Royal Charter. It appears the Government has accepted the BBC's opinion that an increase in TV licence revenue is needed to sustain its payment of the over-75 fee.
3. The Government has agreed to bring forward plans to close the so-called "iPlayer loophole". Under current legislation a TV licence is only needed for those properties where equipment is used to receive "live" broadcast TV programmes. A TV licence is not required where equipment is used solely to watch non-live catch-up services, such as those delivered via the BBC iPlayer. From a technical point of view, it remains unclear exactly how payment for iPlayer services will be administered and enforced.
4. The Government has agreed to phase-out the BBC's current £150m annual contribution to the roll out of superfast broadband services.
5. The Government has said it will "consider carefully" the case for decriminalising TV licence evasion. A leading barrister, David Perry QC, is currently undertaking a root-and-branch review of the system of TV licence enforcement. Perry's review is due for publication within the next few months and the Government will respond to its recommendations in due course.