Tuesday, February 20, 2007

TV License Fees, Electronic Snooping, and Police State.

For as long as I have been at Tyndale House in Cambridge, I have watched television for about a total of 2 1/2 hours. Most of that was for the first half of the Super Bowl on February 4. As a rule, watching television consumes very little of my time. I do not watch many programs even when I am at home. While at Tyndale House, television consumes virtually none of my time since all day, from 8:30 AM until 10:00 PM, I am researching in the library. If, however, I were to grant myself more leisure time, television still would not get more than an extremely thin slice of time. Perhaps I am missing the "good" television programming available, but on the rare occasion that I step over to turn on the television in the Residents' Commons I have invariably turned it off within moments, because I have not found anything of any interest. Certainly, my experience cannot be taken to be the measure of British television programming. I am quite aware of this. Yet, one would think that when Tyndale House is obligated to hand over £131.50 per annum in order to operate a television on its premises that there ought to be something worth watching when one turns the set on.

Today I learned at a Tyndale House residents' meeting that the
£131.50 (approx. $262.00) per annum fee is not voluntary in the sense that residents pay the tax to keep a clear conscience. No. No. There are government vehicles that patrol streets and roads with electronic snooping equipment to check whether one's residence is emitting telltale signals that indicate that a television is operating and tuning into channels. If so, expect to receive notice and pay up.

Are you considering taking up residence in the UK for a few months and you plan to use a television? Here is the page for you to consult. English is not your mother tongue? No problem. There are links for numerous languages so that you can read the web pages in your own language.

If you want to obtain a general overview of the television user fee license, Wikipedia offers a good beginning point here.

Incidentally, during our residents' meeting, when we were told about the government vehicles that snoop about to detect whether residents' televisions are tuned into channels or simply playing DVD or VHS movies, one resident quipped, "That's like a police state!" Touché.

Fellow Americans, our television tax is more concealed. There is a television and radio tax. You did know that. Right? Oh yes. It simply is more veiled in that Congress allocates collected tax revenues to fund National Public Radio and Public Television. It is a less direct tax than here in the UK. We do not pay a direct tax, nor do we acquire a license to operate our television sets. Thank God! We pay a price, of course. We endure more commercials, but then commercials actually do serve various purposes. Now, don't they?
Update 12/17/2008: The fee has gone up since I first published this entry. Now a TV License for color is £139.50 and for black and white is £47.00.