TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: British TV License (was America the Worst For Cell Rates and Plans)

British TV License (was America the Worst For Cell Rates and Plans)

Paul Coxwell (
Fri, 28 Jan 2005 23:53:17 -0000

> What isn't mentioned there, is what happens if you have a TV but no
> licence. You're issued with a warning and told to get a licence or
> risk being taken to court. Fines of up to GBP1 000/USD1 800 are handed
> out or, in the cases of persistent offenders, a custodial sentence is
> imposed.

To be precise, you do _NOT_ need a license to own a TV set.

British law requires a license to receive broadcasts which are
originated or controlled from within the United Kingdom. That means
it is perfectly legal to own as many TV sets as you wish without a
license. It is perfectly legal to use them on a closed-circuit hookup
to watch tapes, DVDs, etc. without a license. It is even legal to
receive foreign broadcasts without a license. The crime is in
watching a UK broadcast without a license.

> "We have a fleet of detector vans, plus, our enforcement officers have
> access to hand-held detection devices capable of detecting a magnetic
> field when a TV is switched on. In fact, we catch an average of over
> 1,000 people watching TV without a licence every day."

Detector vans are a reality, but these days the TV Licensing
Dept. seems to rely more upon their database and sending intimidating
letters to every address with no license. A large majority of
prosecutions result from somebody getting a visit from one of the TV
license inspectors and -- on figuring that they've been caught --
admitting the "offense."

It's not at all unknown for inspectors to use underhand tactics, such
as informing people that they have the legal right to enter a house to
check for the presence of a TV. They have no such right, and can
enter only if they obtain a search warrant first. You're under no
obligation to talk to them at all, nor to respond to the letters which
say "If you do not use a TV please tell us so that we may update our
records" (And there's no point in doing that anyway, as all you'll get
back is a letter saying that they don't believe you and might send
somebody around to check anyway.)

> Yes, we do. It's called democracy. We'd rather pay $200 a year and get
> two analogue terrestrial channels and five analogue radio channels,
> plus lots of local services, plus an increasing number of digital
> terrestrial/satellite/cable TV and radio channels from the publicly
> owned (not state owned) BBC than have advertisements on those
> channels.

Sorry, but it's far from everybody who feels that way. There are
people who have no interest in the programming that the BBC turns out
these days, yet even if they only watch commercial stations on a
satellite or cable subscription the law still requires this
"contribution" to the BBC. If there was EVER a valid defense of the
TV license, it certainly no longer applies as we've had commercial TV
here since 1955.

> Meanwhile we in the U.S. get barraged with advertisements even when
> we're paying upward of $600 a year for cable.

> So who's getting ripped off?

Those with cable and/or satellite subscriptions here also get barraged
with commercials. But the law mandates that they buy a TV license _as
well as_ pay that subscription. And by the way, even though the BBC
might let you watch a whole movie without a commercial break, they use
the between-program slots to plug their own products at every
opportunity these days.

By the way, don't forget that we used to have a RADIO-receiving
license as well. That was abolished in 1971.

Paul Coxwell

Norfolk, England.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Tell me this, Paul. In the UK does it
*really matter or not* if someone insists on a search warrant? Here in
the USA it is mostly just a formality, to buy yourself a few minutes
of time, angering police more than ever. Police here do NOT like it
when you make them work, and as the lady who manages the Independence
Jail once said to me, "they (meaning police) have unlimited resources
and won't quit once they discover an asshole; they'll just dig in
deeper and hang on forever."

I know it works that way in Chicago; if you dared to say 'show me a
warrant' they would wink at you, and camp right there on your
doorstep. They'd get on the radio to the office and ask the supervisor
to 'go upstairs and see Judge so-and-so, get a warrant for (your name),
send it via fax to the 'paper car' and have him drive over here with
it to (your address). Judges are very reluctant to not give police
whatever they want, and sure as the world, five to fifteen minutes
later, the 'paper car' would show up with the search warrant. Then,
instead of asking nicely if they could come in like they had done, the
police who had been waiting all this time on your doorstep just kick
the door down and come on in, smashing and grabbing anything even
closely resembling a computer or parts for it, etc. No more Mister
Nice Guy at that point. That's why I say search warrants -- even most
of the USA constitution are just a formality here in the USA to humor
the citizens who think it matters. Is UK actually different in those
respects? With Tony Blair, the Bush lapdog if I ever saw one, I would
not think so. PAT]

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