Well, that time is nearly upon us: the review of the BBC's royal charter, otherwise known as the mechanism that allows the BBC to exist. Some background: the BBC operates under a Royal Charter, a document that establishes and outlines the organization and responsibilities of a publicly-owned company, municipality, or university. In the BBC's case, its royal charter allows the corporation to exist, outlines its organization, enables the broadcaster to operate autonomously from the government, and provides for a license fee to fund it all. However, the royal charter expires every ten years, meaning that the BBC has to obtain a new royal charter to continue its operations. The current royal charter expires at the end of 2016, but consultations, committee hearings, and testimony have already begun in the process of renewing the BBC's royal charter. However, activity won't pick up on the charter renewal process until after this year's general election due to fears that the process would become "politicized" if it took place before the election. On February 26, a parliamentary committee issued a report entitled "Future of the BBC". The report provides a thorough look into the state of the broadcaster, what's good, what's bad, and possible steps that can be taken for the future. For instance, with regards to funding the BBC, the report finds that there is "no feasible" method in funding the BBC right now except through the license fee (£145.50, payable by households that own a TV set), but does offer some suggestions on how to proceed with funding the broadcaster should the license fee be scrapped: - Decriminalization: Currently, failure to pay the license fee is a criminal offense. One alternative offered by the report involves continuing the license fee past 2016, but making nonpayment a civil matter instead of a criminal one. Many MPs support this, but the BBC says that its evasion and collection costs would "increase" as a result of such a move, and points to Japan's public broadcaster (NHK) as an argument against decriminalization (25% of Japanese households with a TV do not pay the license fee). - General taxation: The report notes that in Finland, the public broadcaster (Yle) moved from a license fee model to a general taxation model in 2013. Despite this mention, the committee report notes that the "Yle tax" system is "too young" to judge. - Mandatory levy: This is the preferred alternative. The report notes that in Germany, the federal government moved to replace its license fee with a mandatory levy that all households must pay. While the committee identifies the imposition of a mandatory levy for the BBC as its recommended alternative, it also noted that there is the possibility of significant pushback from households that don't own TV sets, as they'd be subject to the levy as well. As for access, at least one MP, the report noted, wished for the BBC to consider restricting iPlayer access to only those who could prove they paid the license fee, while allowing nonpayers to access the online video and audio portal with a subscription. The report stopped short of endorsing this, but suggested that the government and the BBC "further study" such an idea. With regards to the last royal charter renewal in 2010, the report deemed the terms "unsatisfactory", noting that the BBC, in addition to its domestic responsibilities, had to shoulder the costs of Welsh programming (S4C,) digital switchover, broadband, local TV, and the BBC World Service while seeing the license fee frozen. They also took a jab at the BBC Trust for failing to "reflect the interests of the licence fee payers" before those of the government. Finally, the committee report suggests that the license fee should remain the primary preserve of the BBC, but a "small portion" of it be set aside to promote local and regional journalism and children's programming. Speaking of the BBC Trust, the report calls for that regulatory body (established in 2007) to be abolished and replaced with two organizations: a "BBC Board" to oversee the broadcaster itself, headed by a Chairman, and a new "Public Service Broadcasting Commission" to oversee the BBC Board, the broadcaster's finances, and British public broadcasting in general. Ofcom, the current telecom regulator, would also be assigned the task of regulating the BBC's content. The National Audits Office (NAO) would have unfettered access to oversee the broadcaster's finances as well. Yes, the BBC would be regulated in some form by four different authorities. In short, the report suggests a lot, but in a few bullet points: - keep the license fee, but if it must be scrapped, replace it with a mandatory levy, - abolish the BBC Trust and replace it with a BBC Board and a Chairman, - look at ways to restrict free iPlayer access to license fee payers only, - establish a Public Service Broadcasting Commission to oversee the public broadcasters, - grant Ofcom a role in regulating the BBC's content, and - grant the NAO access to the BBC's financial accounts. Man, that was a lot of stuff, but we are talking about the largest and most well-known broadcaster in the world.