The television license (which is, in fact, a form of human rights abuse
- in as much as it uses an arbitrary and profit-driven framework to infringe on people's freedom, privacy, livelihood, property rights and access to information) was initially conceived as the Wireless License
around about the 1920
's. Its purpose was to fund government
-run radio broadcasting
, and effectively act as a barrier to entry
for commercial broadcasting
endeavours (which it still excels at today).
Due to legislative inertia, voter apathy and political conniving (and greed), it is now deeply entrenched in UK law. Supposedly, the TV license is required to fund the free-to-air TV and Radio services in the UK (namely BBC1, BBC2, Radio 1 though 5, regional radio stations and the World Service), although in reality the BBC is largely funded by a hefty chunk of public money and its enormously lucrative and publicly unaccountable commercial ventures (which it advertises on its own channels exclusively - there are no other adverts).
The license money is also poured into the BBC's inept cable channels, some of which are also free to air, but are so astonishingly amateurish as to be a flagrant insult to the fee-payer. The BBC uses its (pompous, wretched) free-to-air services as an excuse to demand more and more money each year from every television owner (who has no choice in the matter). Idiotically, they have even stated that to view live webcasts on the BBC internet site you need a TV license (to which the only fitting reply is of course, "fuck you.").
The task of administrating the TV License has long been farmed out to a private company. They use the cover of public information laws to produce print, billboard and TV ads based wholly around intimidation, something that would be illegal for any private company to do. The entire body of their threats (note they only have threats: there are no remotely valid arguments as to why the TV license fee must be paid) revolve around the mythical "detector vans". These vans can apparently detect the electromagnetic interference caused by an active CRT (or a washing machine or microwave, stupidly. But not a flat screen). In reality, the TVLA* detection method involves knocking on every door whose address isn't on their list of licence holders and entrapping the occupant into paying (as they have no powers to search). They did this to me (yes, me, who has never owned a TV) by serving a court warning on the spot. Charming bunch of guys, eh?
Some methods of avoiding payment : remove the plug from your television. Use a television that has an integral power supply. (e.g. a portable TV) Hide your television. Use a TV tuner card / plasma monitor / projector. Deny you have a television. Pretend you aren't in. Carry your television to a next-door neighbours.
Or do what I do : go without. Fuck them and their lowest common denominator, politically skewed, non-interactive audiovisual excrement. TV is dead.
For more information, visit : http://www.cal.org.uk/
*Whose slogan used to be, ironically : "It's not fair, it's not right, and it's against the law." Damn right.
Since I wrote the above rant, digital terrestrial television services have launched in the UK. There is no longer any technical obstacle preventing the BBC's content from being 'opt-in' (encrypted) instead of free-to-air. The BBC's charter comes up for review in 2006.