TV Detector Vans Once Prowled The Streets Of England

The United Kingdom is somewhat unique in the world for requiring those households which view broadcast television to purchase a licence for the privilege. Initially coming into being with the Wireless Telegraphy Act in 1923, the licence was required for anyone receiving broadcast radio, before being expanded to cover television in 1946. The funds generated from this endeavour are used as the primary funding for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

A typical TV licence invoice. Separate licences for black and white and color sets still exist, with 6000 B&W licences issued in 2019.

Of course, it’s all well and good to require a licence, but without some manner of enforcement, the measure doesn’t have any teeth. Among other measures, the BBC have gone as far as employing special vans to hunt down illegally operating televisions and protect its precious income.

The Van Is Coming For You

To ensure a regular income, the BBC runs enforcement operations under the TV Licencing trade name, the entity which is responsible for administering the system. Records are kept of licences and their expiry dates, and investigations are made into households suspected of owning a television who have not paid the requisite fees. To encourage compliance, TV Licencing regularly sends sternly worded letters to those who have let their licence lapse or have not purchased one. In the event this fails, they may arrange a visit from enforcement officers. These officers aren’t empowered to forcibly enter homes, so in the event a homeowner declines to cooperate with an investigation, TV Licencing will apply for a search warrant. This may be on the basis of evidence such as a satellite dish or antenna spotted on the roof of a dwelling, or a remote spied on a couch cushion through a window.

Alternatively, a search warrant may be granted on the basis of evidence gleaned from a TV detector van. Outfitted with equipment to detect a TV set in use, the vans roam the streets of the United Kingdom, often dispatched to addresses with lapsed or absent TV licences. If the van detects that a set may be operating and receiving broadcast signals, TV Licencing can apply to the court for the requisite warrant to take the investigation further. The vans are almost solely used to support warrant applications; the detection van evidence is rarely if ever used in court to prosecute a licence evader. With a warrant in hand, officers will use direct evidence such as a television found plugged into an aerial to bring an evader to justice through the courts.

Detecting Television Usage

An example of the original detector van design, as deployed in 1952. Note the three loop antennas – one front, two rear.

The vans were first deployed in 1952, with equipment designed to pick up the magnetic field from the horizontal deflection scanning of the picture tube, at 10.125 KHz. Loop antennas were used to detect the second harmonic of this signal at 20.25 KHz, which was mixed with a local beat frequency oscillator at 19.25 KHz to create a 1 KHz tone to indicate to the operator when a signal was picked up. Three antennas were used, one on the front of the van and two on the rear on the left and right sides. When the van was next to an operating television in a house, the signal between the front and side antenna would be roughly the same. Signal from the right and left antennas could then be compared to determine which side of the street the television was on.

The VHF era brought with it a new detector van design, this time built on a car such as to avoid clearance issues with the tall antenna.

Once ITV started broadcasting in 1963, this method of detection became impractical. The two television stations did not synchronise their line-scan signals, so neighbouring houses watching different channels would create confusing interference for the detector. To get around this, the vans switched to detecting the local oscillator of the TV set’s superheterodyne VHF receiver instead. With stations broadcasting on bands spanning 47 to 240 MHz, it was impractical at the time to build a tuner and antenna to cover this entire range. Instead, the equipment was designed to work from 110-250MHz tuning in the fundamental frequencies of the higher bands, or the harmonics of the lower frequency oscillators. A highly directional antenna was used to hone in on a set, and a periscope was installed to allow the operator to view the house the antenna was pointing at. If operating in the dark, the periscope could instead be used to shine a small dot of light in the direction of the antenna’s facing, to identify the relevant target. Results were cross-referenced with a list of houses with lapsed or absent licences to help hunt down evaders.

A pair of antennas was used to search for televisions in the UHF era, with the twin setup helping to improve directionality.

The introduction of UHF transmissions led to further redesigns. Engineers again leaned on harmonics to allow a single system to cover the full range from low VHF to higher UHF frequencies. A pair of 6′ long log-periodic spiral antennas were used, mounted on top of the van, which could be varied in spacing to effectively tune different frequencies. In practice, the antennas would be pointed towards a row of houses, while the van was slowly driven along the street. The beam pattern of the antenna pair would show seven distinct lobes on a CRT inside the van when a TV was detected. An operator would press a button to mark house boundaries on the CRT as the van moved, and when the lobe pattern centered on a particular house, the TVs location was clear. The hardware was further refined over the years, with various antenna rigs and detection equipment used as technology marched on.

Seeking Television in Modern Times

In the UHF era, pinning down a detected television set took some finesse, with the operator having to interpret signals received on a CRT display.

Modern efforts to detect licence evasion are shrouded in mystery. Modern flatscreen displays receiving digital television signals do not emit as much radio frequency interference as older designs, and any such signals detected are less easily correlated with broadcast television. An LCD television in the home can just as easily be displaying output from a video game console or an online streaming service, with both being usage cases that do not require the owner to pay a licence fee. Based on an alleged BBC submission for a search warrant in recent years, there may be optical methods used in which reflected light from a television in a viewer’s home is compared to a live broadcast signal. The BBC declined to answer the Freedom of Information request with any details of their methods, other than to say they have employed vehicles and handheld devices in enforcement efforts. However, given the multitude of broadcast, cable and satellite channels now available, the comparison effort would necessarily be much harder, leading some to suspect the days of the detector van are largely over.

While the TV licence may have its days numbered with the increased dominance of streaming content, it remains a quirky piece of legislation that spawned the development of a technical curiosity. If you fancy yourself a television sleuth, sound off in the comments with your chosen approach to hunting for televisions watching broadcast content illegally in this modern era. And be sure to look over your shoulder – you never know when TV Licencing might be knocking on your door!

306 thoughts on “TV Detector Vans Once Prowled The Streets Of England

  1. “somewhat unique in the world ”
    Not really. We had the same system here in the Netherlands until the year 2000 and they still have similar schemes in France, Germany and Belgium. And yes, we also had vans driving around looking for “blackwatchers”

    1. And in Italy, though lately this has been incorporated into the electricity bill. It’s used as a means of financing state television so that it won’t be too dependant on advertisers, and to maintain the State owned FM radio network since it has strategic value (for example to coordinate people during natural disasters, to inform motorists about traffic conditions on motorways etc).

        1. The law states any live transmission, of the main channels, had a friend that argued that and was advised that watching a channel live on BBC iPlayer is the same as watching with a dish or antenna.
          One of the reasons they ask for your post code when you sign up for iPlayer..

          1. It’s not just live transmission – to watch anything on iplayer (live, on demand, catch up etc) you must have a licence (that has changed, it did used to be the case that it was only live transmission). The exception is S4C television, which I believe is the Welsh channel. The change makes sense if the BBC are to hope to compete with the Netflix model, and given that younger people increasingly do not have televisions at all.

      1. The Italian authorities used to check for antennas and then they’d send a bill to the household. Problem was that many Americans stationed in Italy, used their rooftop antennas to pick up the Armed Forces Network, which transmitted on the NTSC signal instead of the PAL signal. And the majority of Americans didn’t even understand Italian. So base legal had to work with the local authorities to get the Americans exempt from that law.

    2. Belgium is (as usual) a strange case. Technically the system still exists, although the different parts of the country have reduced this tax to 0€ between 2002 and 2018. They are not allowed to abolish the tax itself (which is a federal responsibility).

      So this means that technically the tax still exists, while at the same time nobody has to pay it.

      1. It’s the dutch speaking part of Belgium called Flanders is exempt to pay the tax. However the French part is stil paying mandatory, for the German speaking region I’m not sure. I guess they have a bigger choice watching the German and the Channels from Holland because of the geographical location of the region.

      2. i love Belgium,just such a nice bunch of people, About 3 years ago we travelled down to Ghent from Bruges,the idea was for me and my partner to hire Bicycles to have a look around,didn’t realise that I had to register first to enable us to hire a bike each,was then about to walk away and this young Belgian guy was then returning his bicycle to the hire station and he asked if we were having problems,yes..he then explained why we couldn’t hire the bikes(he spoke beautiful English,probably better than I do and I’m a native speaker!) then he said no problem and promptly hired 2 bikes out for me and my partner using his account and credit card!!!..His name was Michel..where else in the world would you get trust like that? I gave him 20 euros which I had to force into his hand,the bikes probably cost about 2 euros max but his generosity gave us such a wonderful experience around Ghent which is a beautiful place..sorry, I really didn’t have much to say about detector vans!!!

        1. Bugger the detector vans, it’s such a warm feeling when you come across such acts of kindness. My daughter and her friend were hiking/travelling round europe and were on a train in Italy when the ticket inspector checked their tickets and told them they were incorrect ones. He was quite bolshy by all accounts till an italian guy who spoke perfect english intervened, remonstrated with the inspector and then paid for their tickets. This was in 1997 and it’s still in our memory as such a generous act. Always help someone in difficulty, you never know when it could be you and yours.

          1. We are getting way off topic here, but I have to chime in. I’ve been helped out as a traveller more times tham I can count. As a nerd I can be pretty introverted, but these days I am trying to learn to approach people who look lost, to see if i can help…

      1. It’s called “Redevance audiovisuelle” and it’s still well alive (above 100€).
        Technically speaking it’s declared by default into your taxes, you must declare not to have a television set to be exempted. A lot of people are less inclined to cheat as declaring so may trigger a tax examination.

      2. In France, its named «redevance télé» or «contribution à l’audiovisuel public». Its implemented in our residencial tax («taxe d’habitation»). Despite the latter has been reduced to 0€ for most of the citizens in the last 3 years, you still receive a residencial tax only to pay the TV license to finance France Télévision.

      3. To expand a bit [mac012345] and [Morgan Delahaye]’s answers the “contribution à l’audiovisuel public” tax is not exactly the same.
        Strictly speaking, UK tax broadcast reception, and France tax should be used to create content.
        That’s why for years I didn’t paid it (I didn’t have any TV and almost never used my radio). But basically, as long as you consume national media (watching French TV, listening to French radio, or watching French youtube channel), you should pay it as you consume media produced by France, or that France helped to produce.
        Well, if you are French that is.
        A Canadian or Belgian watching one of the French’s youtube channel don’t have to pay anything.
        The only bad side of this tax to me is that even if you pay, you don’t have your word to say in the usage of it (like, I would prefer it to be used more for science videos than reality show). But hey, I’m just an humble citizen, if I wanted things to change, I would be a politician.

    3. Finland utilized a similar scheme until recently. Now the government just smacks all citizen that earn a preset amount of money per month with a progressive media tax, doesnt matter what you watch or what you use to watch it, you pay.

        1. Yeah, because they changed the rules to include internet connectivity aswell, since our state-funded TV does have an online presence with quite a lot of shows being viewable online.

          Back until around 2010, any time you you moved, you automatically received a letter with a form to register your broadcast receivers.
          Now they rip off 17.50 EUR each month off pretty much anyone, including people barely managing to live off a couple hundred euros.

          1. “Rip off”. Oh please.

            First of all, the German fee is per household now. Doesn’t matter if you have any devices capable of receiving broadcasts or internet services anymore. Just every household pays, so it’s essentially a tax.

            17.50 for something millions of people use regularly (e.g. the tagesschau – 8pm news on the ARD – alone gets 10 – 14M views a day) isn’t too bad.

            You can make the argument that if you don’t use it you shouldn’t pay, but you can make that same argument about much everything else the state does; I don’t have children, so why should my money finance child care and education or the reduced tax rate for people with kids?
            That doesn’t mean the system is perfect, but it’s still better in my opinion than leaving it up private actors alone. We can e.g. see what for-profit “news” leads to in the US, and it’s bad .

            People who are on some form of welfare – e.g. long-term unemployment, partial assistance for low income households, asylum, etc – or get long term care assistance (Pflegegeld oder Pflegefreibeträge) are exempted. Anybody else who is barely making ends meet can try to get a “hardship” exemption (Härtefallausnahme).

          2. > We can e.g. see what for-profit “news” leads to in the US, and it’s bad .

            The media is a reflection of the underlying political system, not the other way around. When the politics is based on first-past-the-post and winner-takes-all, you get high polarization and dirty play because you have to win all the time and you can’t make compromises.

    4. The unique part about that the UK’s system is that it’s not (technically) a tax, and not collected by the government. Instead it’s effectively a state sanctioned monopoly.
      Practically this doesn’t make much of a difference I realise, but the idea is that it gives the BBC independence from the government.

      1. That’s to fool the mug punter.

        The BBC Board is accountable for all BBC p̶r̶o̶p̶a̶g̶a̶n̶d̶a̶ activities.

        The Government selects the Chair of the Board.

        The Goverment appoints 4 of the 14 Board members.

        The Government appointees selects all remaining members.

    5. Similar in Poland as well. There are separate licenses for TV and radio. However, there are no TV detector vans.
      Several years ago the government tried to use the state mailmen (Poczta Polska) to verify presence of a TV/radio receiver in households, yet they didn’t have any legal grounding for that so it wasn’t too effective (you could just stop the mailman from entering your private space).
      Now the government just showers money on state broadcasters from the central budget, yet the licenses still remain valid (at least on legal paper).

      1. Television licence in the UK also covers radio.
        I seem to remember the wording changed a few years ago and it’s no longer a television and radio licence but it still pays for the BBC’s radio stations.

    6. Denmark had the same. From 1979 to 1990 “pejlevogne” similar to the ones in the article drove around and intimidated no-tech people with electronic gizmos (mostly followed by observation of “blue light in the windows” of addresses not registred as license payers – whilst a few physics teachers protested the “fact” that emissions from TV components in those days were detectable at a distance…

      2007 the TV license was replaced by a “media license”, payable by anyone owning access to the internet at the excess of 250KB/s, whist 2021 it includes “anyone owning access to the internet, be it TV, mobile, PC or IoT-knick-knack.

      Rumble from right wing parties in power 2018 caused the rather fast and actual destruction* of the Danish Broadcast Corporation (DR, Danish Radio) and the gradual annulment of the media license, with a gradual phase out by jan. 2022, to subsequently pay for public broadcast over taxes. Which was a real turnabout by rightwing parties – realising everyone is enjoying taxable content – but also easier to leash in public broadcast, which non-left parties since the mid 60’s had complained were in the hands or communist lackeys.

      Sadly the “red lackeys” regime have produced some of the most socially aware and eye opening TV for young people in particular, most of which, with no ill effects what so ever, today are grown up now to subsist on the formulaic diet of streaming TV.**

      * From 7 channels to 3… and demands for more Danish produced content
      ** as broadcast TV is now mostly filled with cheaply produced life style programs and the 11th round of random Barnaby episodes.

    7. We had the same in New Zealand, I think up until about the 1980’s sometime. Certainly was not unique to the UK then! Author obviously hadn’t heard of them and hadn’t done their homework on how widespread such things really were!

  2. In Portugal the charge the monthly license with included in the power company’s invoice. Every power meter is charged with this audio/visual tax even if it’s the traffic lights meter or outdoor sign lighting.

  3. I had a visit from a TV license enforcement officer many years ago when I was at University. From memory there was a clause that allowed TV ‘s to be used outside the home as long as the power source was wholly contained inside the TV casing. I think this was for the case of portable TV’s but the officer insisted I had a TV and no license. My response was that of an engineering student and added that it’s battery powered which he did not believe but it was and I showed him a TV with sealed lead acid batteries inside. I quizzed him on the legality of a solar powered TV but he told me to go away in unpleasant terms.

    I think now they assume everyone has a TV and they cross reference addresses to the database of license holders. If they are not on the database they assume they are dodging the license fee.

    1. I don’t have a TV license and I keep getting strongly worded letters from TV Licensing. Before the COVID times they included dates that terrifying inspectors would apparently be turning up to look around my home. I don’t know if they ever turned up though, I have a job.

      1. I work from home. They haven’t turned up in the last 8 years. Got a threatening letter just yesterday. You would think they’d be sparing the post office the extra load of delivering their firelighters during lockdown.

        1. I’ve cleaned out mountains of tv license enforcement notices from old rental properties, once had an “officer” want to look around a house without floorboards, he decided there probably wasn’t a tv inside.

        2. I received a threatening letter the other day with a cryptic code instead of a date. It said something like “your ABC987HX letter”, obviously trying to imply that it’s some kind of official governmental form.

      2. I watch selected programs on Youtube, Netflix and Prime via the internet and very occassionally watch programs on the independent channel websites. I never watch iplayer or live stream TV. I sign the required declaration on the licencing site and haven’t heard from them except to remind me I need to update every 2 years for the last 5 years or so. Why should I pay for something that 90% of the time is just a lot of mindless drivel which I genuinely don’t watch? I get all the news I need on internet news sites and as for the BBC being independent… pull the other one!

      3. I used to be regularly harassed by the BBC because I did not have a licence. I have no interest in television. Seemed to go away when I queried whether holding information on me was within the terms of their declaration to the data protection registrar and whether I might be in a position to seek damages. They are not legally allowed to keep information on anyone who is not a customer.

          1. Taxes are always with us.
            In 1689 the English introduced a “Window Tax” based on the number of windows on your house.
            The rich blocked up most of the windows on their Palaces so the poor had to pay because they had only one window. (The Rich always find tax loopholes.)

    2. We never renew the license, but take out a new one each year using a different family member’s name, which confuses the hell out of them. Recently they cancelled the license half way through and I had to take out a new one, after getting a refund. So I got six months for free!

    3. Yup – that’s how our government works. Assume you’re breaking the law, and threaten you into compliance (because it’s not really worth their time to investigate and prosecute).

    4. When I moved to Belgium, my old house was empty for a while, and the TV licence expired, so I kept getting phone calls from TV Licencing. I used to enjoy the little chats we had, where I refused to provide any information to a company that I had no business relationship with.

  4. “The United Kingdom is somewhat unique in the world for requiring those households which view broadcast television to purchase a licence for the privilege” In germany its called GEZ and every houshold is required to pay it, no matter if you own a recieving device or not. Its almost 20€ and most of it goes to pensioners.

    1. are the program announcers that old already?

      But seriously, all the money goes on a big pile and gets redistributed, so it also could end up making an extra autobahn lane somewhere.

      1. Which is exactly the problem. They justify the tax by saying it’s for X but they actually use it for Y, which means either they lied about the purpose to get the voters to consent, or they’re overtaxing you for the TV by the amount that “spills over” to Y and should instead take the funds for Y from somewhere else.

        Either way, that’s always how it goes. The state finds something to tax and soon enough the purpose of the taxation is lost, and the money just goes into the big pile, and with the government being unable and unwilling to cut spending anywhere the pile must keep growing.

        1. And from what I’ve read there really hasn’t been a state broadcaster since the 1950s, only regional broadcasters which are either run by private companies or local governments. But they’re all entitled to state funding whatever the case.

  5. In Belgium there was a tax on Color TV’s and Car radio’s.
    I guess the U.K. wasn’t that “unique”: shows more info. For the Flanders region this ended 2001, for Wallonia this was only abandoned in 2018 (typically Belgium ;-). We did “fear” the “taxman” who would be looking through the window and “see” if there was a color TV or not. Those were the days. LOL

    1. Here in the UK the licence fee was dropped for radio, and black and white TVs. Now you need a licence if you want to watch anything on BBC IPlayer, or live TV by any means (including streaming).

      1. They’ve also gone from a per-device license to a site license given how many TVs, tablets, phones etc a household may have. Last I looked, people over 70 don’t have to pay the TV license.

          1. BBC News and much of the BBC’s programming is liberal globalist propaganda, as is the output of most of the mainstream media. If you watch TV that is live or use the BBC’s iPlayer without a licence and the licence enforcers can prove it, it is a criminal offence punished by fines or jail. The government was considering decriminalising the offence, but changed its mind, Peter Hitchens, the famous journalist, says that is because the BBC has pretended that there are no scientists or medical experts who disagree with the official line on Covid-19. I agree.

        1. Depends where you are. In Europe we can watch the UK channels via satellite, via a free receiver or Sky, though we’re told that’s not legal, and efforts are occasionally made to make it more difficult to receive the signals the further away from the British coast one is, as new more directional satellites arrive. Some of us get many of the channels via the internet via a VPN or Proxy, but we’re told that’s not legal either and it’s said that the Beeb and others make constant efforts to shut down feeds by that route too, even so far as shutting off feeds to IP addresses merely suspected of being in or onward-feeding to foreign locations. The Beeb even has a reporting channel on their website to get in touch with them if you think you’ve had your feed cut off for that reason inappropriately. Yet there are suppliers here who guarantee continuity of service by those means. I understand that part of the reason for the alleged illegality is about performance and intellectual property rights which are defined by country of ‘consumption’. Another factor for Sky users is that Sky requires you to have a UK phone number connected to its box but rarely checks that the connection is in place, and residents here use a UK address, usually of a relative, to pretend they live in the UK so can receive the broadcasts legally. Brexit may change that a bit as many people who live here more-or-less permanently are having to come out from ‘under the radar’ and become properly legally resident here which can snooker their UK pretence in this regard, if they want to stay here. (Some who can’t are already receiving deportation notices, but that’s a different story!)

    2. For what I know it has been transferred to annual taxes in some obscure part of the sheet… this is again a smart move to get more money for the state and suck out everything they can… Belgium is one of the countries where taxation is the highest and still the available money for infrastructure, justice and others is always insufficient… seek the problem…

  6. In my experience when these guys knock on your door they ask:
    “do you have a TV licence?” i say “nope”,
    “do you watch live broadcast TV from this premises?” i say “nope”,
    “do you mind if we come in and take a look?” i say “yes i do”.
    Then i close the door. Generally that’s the end if it until your address pops back up on their automated system again a year later.

    1. This is the right way to deal with these people.
      They have no legal power and only get away with what they do by using threatening language, intimidating actions and the gullibility of people.

  7. You can play “detector van” with a pair of (superhet) AM radios, you turn one on and put volume on lowest or plug a jack in the headphone socket, (Just so there’s no cheating via audio) set to the AM band of course if it’s a multiband unit… have someone hide it… then get the other one, and hunt up and down the band until you hear the beat frequency of the IF transformer (local oscillator) which will be for AM around 455khz might be 450-470, above or below the frequency the target is tuned to…. then by turning the detector radio around you can sweep for the direction of the other… the nulls are usually sharper than signal peaks off the internal loopstick ferrite antenna, more directional.

      1. I think you can take an external “BFO” circuit that uses inductive coupling, usually used for resolving CW and SSB, and use that to inject whatever audio you want. Though it’s not exactly high fidelity. For shits and giggles, could probably have an output pin on an arduino or similar drive a coil that injects audio into close by AM radios.

      1. Yes they maybe don’t if they’ve got digital tuning, but if they’ve got a knob, there’s a good chance they do. Basic radio alarms are coming with knob tuned AM/FM still.

    1. I don’t know the exact particulars, but like wartime computing capabilities, the local oscillator detection method was kept quiet into the 1970s. This was because it was used in WWII (I think originated then, as a practical method, even if it was known experimentally before) to detect spies or enemy sympathisers who were merely listening to broadcasts, and not transmitting in response. Of course if they managed this on a crystal set, then they were not detected, but the Abwehr supplied their agents with the latest in radio technology, i.e. superhet radios, for best reception.

  8. That is the lunacy of the UK, a quasi socialist state where a three wheeled car is counted as a motorcycle, so getting a license for such is easy. The birth of those crappy Reliant Robins

        1. The engine of the three wheeled Reliant were much sought after for formula four racing cars when I was a lad.
          And on the subject of the detector van, it is hard to imagine a modern day TV set getting type approval if it emits RF that can be picked up outside on the street, it might have been possible last century, but I firmly believe the Van is now a myth, perpetuated to keep the great unwashed crossing the BBC’s palm with silver.

          1. It was PLLs and direct digital synthesis in the tuners, along with higher frequency detectors that killed it really. No need for IF transformers.

            Funny thing is though… I think VCRs got these a decade or so before they were commonplace in average consumer TVs, i.e. standard definition CRTs up into early 00s. So TVs with a scart socket, you had your VCR hooked up through that, direct composite or RGB, and your TV tuner wasn’t in play while you were going through the VCR, as many people find more convenient unless you’re actually recording. So your VCR, or possibly satellite box, was shielding you from detection by using it’s more advanced tuner, rather than the narc in your TV.

          2. i’m a brit and I know that in the US, if you have something that emits RF into the street, at the frequency of TV or IF signals, you will be getting swatted by the FCC.

            A buddy who was an engineer told me him and some friends used to hide their small TV in the loft (attic for you guys in the USA) when the guys with the vans came looking for them.

            To confuse then even further they made this device that emitted TV signals at the legal power levels, them same power emitted by a regular TV (so no police raids or massive fines like the radio pirates). The device would receive TV signals and generate deflection and IF signals synced up with the TV signals, to make it appear a TV was on.

            When the detector van guys came they were confused as to where it was coming from as there was no TV on. Sometimes if they came round when they hadn’t been able to hide the small tv they would turn it off, tell the TV license guys their TV was broken, and they’d be searching the house looking for the other TV that was on. And they didn’t think it could be the real one, they actually believed it was broken because it was turn off anyway and couldn’t be generating the signals they found.

            The TV signal generator was cleverly hidden inside an old radio. Nobody knew what was going on and it never even went to trial to determine if they were guilty of using a TV without a license. They obviously couldn’t know for sure there was a TV on at the property because it had been searched and nothing was found, but the signals were still there, so it could even be faulty detector van. They didn’t want the reliability of their detector vans to come into question.

      1. >you’re claiming that paying for a service is socialist? Interesting take.

        An unsolicited service that you didn’t need nor did you ask for, that serves the ruling party’s political interests, that you’re legally required to pay for, that everyone dodges by lying and making a charade out of the whole thing, mostly to employ a bunch of government servants that pretend to be doing their jobs, to no practical purpose? That’s pretty much the practical description of socialism.

        The essential functions of broadcast tv/radio should be covered by the general taxes, and the rest of the political propaganda is unnecessary. Put it behind a pay card and see how many people really want it.

          1. The US is socialist in some ways, probably more than you’d think. Taxes are socialist for sure, and are relatively new to the US. The military, fire department, and police department are all socialist. Churches are socialist if tithing is being collected. Anytime resources are redistributed, that’s socialism. Socialism isn’t a bad thing. Paying for something you don’t want as an individual is 100% socialism. Not paying for something you don’t want is libertarianism.

          2. >Taxes are socialist for sure

            Untrue. Public ownership of the means of production (such as TV/radio production) is socialist. Any state or regime may collect taxes regardless of the underlying ideology.

          3. >We all have to pay for things we don’t want as individuals.

            The question is, who gets to decide what things belong in the public sphere and what things are private for your individual discretion.

            The underlying theory of socialism is that “negative liberty”, or the freedom from coercion, is not sufficient to liberate a person because they are still constrained by external conditions. One may be “free” in poverty and illness, which means they’re mostly free to die. Instead, the individual should act through the state as a collective to change those external conditions – to have the positive liberty that actualizes the potential to do anything and everything – which introduces the paradox of whose freedom exactly are we’re talking about in the first place, and why? The individual is still not able to do whatever they want, so the original complaint remains unanswered…

            In any case, the socialist argument is that everything, or as much of everything as feasible should be public, and there should be no individual discretion but a collective one. The practical reality is that this is impossible, because the state is never the same as the people. The practical reality is that under socialism, the state which consists of a limited few people has most if not all the discretion, and they’re merely playing charades over democracy and public choice to keep it that way.

            Taxes or public spending per se has nothing to do with socialism. For example, keeping a military may be merely the logical consequence of having a state, any form of state, because states without a military are usually provided with one by some other state, along with a new government and the other things. It may therefore be agreed, that even though nobody wants to pay for it, we still must.

          4. But most of it these days are for socialist causes. Public services are socialist causes really. Roads, public transport. street lighting, all public service. I suppose the only way it wouldn’t be socialist these days is when it isn’t going to fund public services specifically. Like in the past when some king would want 3 pieces of gold from everyone to pay for a statue of himself. If some politician could order that these days there would be an outrage. In fact all the balances in place other parts of the government would ensure that couldn’t happen. So all taxes are for public service and therefore all taxes are socialist.

            Having said that Americans are very opposed to public service, particularly those who live in rural areas with very little infrastructure. Places where it’s just miles and miles of fields and few roads so everyone owns a 4×4. People were very opposed to Obama’s ideas about public service because it would mean increasing taxes.

            I mean the American revolution started because they didn’t want to pay more tax to Britain.

        1. The service is television, you have to seek it to receive it, you can’t just trip and accidentally a TV, aerial, and tuning. If you don’t want to watch it you don’t have to. On the subject of “the ruling party’s political interests” there are laws against that for the BBC, other broadcasters can do what they wish, but mostly stick with mocking whoever happens to be in power.

          1. The service is public broadcast television signals. A television is a privately owned device. You’re assuming people watch the BBC because their tv COULD pick up the signal. Guilty until proven innocent. How very democratic.

            Stick to monitors with no tuners and download everything.

          2. >, you can’t just trip and accidentally a TV

            Go to a pub, walk along the street, go to someone else’s house – accidentally a TV.

            >there are laws against that for the BBC

            As if that means anything. A ruling class writes a law that says the public broadcasting company can’t be partial in favor of the ruling class? Gimme a break.

          3. More to the point: there is no such thing as unbiased media, if for the sheer impossibility of presenting all points of view without unduly emphasizing some opinions (e.g. fallacy of moderation). Any rules or laws against partiality are impossible to follow, and any appearance to that end is just satisfying the law by the letter.

            A public broadcasting company of any country is always serving some special interest, which is made possible by the fact that the company is never actually under public control – that would be perfectly impractical. It’s either controlled by the state, or it becomes autocratic in its domain and starts to drive its own political agenda.

            >”the view from nowhere not only leads to sloppy thinking but actually leaves the reader less informed than she would be had she simply read an unapologetically ideological source or even, in some cases, nothing at all”.

        2. What you said is NOT the description of socialism. Socialism is when the workers own the means of production(AKA no bosses). Socialism is IN YOUR INTEREST unless you make all or most of your money off owning something like a house or a business(self employed people are fine even if they technically own a business-I’m only talking about people who employ other people). I am not trying to get you to help start an evil authoritarian regime I am only spreading class consciousness.

      2. Making it a law to pay for something you don’t even want to use is quasi-socialist. It hasn’t made sense since the advent of commercial TV and even less sense since the invention of pay TV scrambling/encryption systems.

      1. In Idaho you have to take a motorcycle safety course to get a motorcycle endorsement on your regular driver’s license. Dunno if that applies to 3 wheelers, or if open or fully enclosed makes a difference.

      2. I drove a 3 wheeler on my full motorcycle licence before I could afford to buy and run a four wheeler including through heavy snow. Unlike many drivers I never rolled. So long as you treat them with the respect they desrve it isn’t a problem.

    1. You’d be surprised to know that Youtube -and any other live programmes that are meant to be publicly accessible- are also claimed to require a TV license.

      The absurdity of this, is the main reason that I wouldn’t consider paying for a TV license -because otherwise I do think BBC would be worth it.

      1. Youtube is a private entity. It’s not MEANT to be publicly accessible, it just happens to be so because they choose so.

        Since Youtube makes money out of the free content published on the platform, BBC making videos for publishing on there is actually playing favorites and bolstering the dominant market position of Google/Alphabet. This is a misuse of public funds, and collecting license fees on that excuse is not valid.

        1. This is a very specific case, but you have a very, very valid point. In fact, YouTube collects revenue on public viewership of pretty much any video. In this case, you paid taxes to watch BBC broadcasts on a streaming service that is making YouTube money by displaying ad content in between BBC content. Public broadcast is meant to be covered by taxes, you shouldn’t be paying twice (because YouTube charges you based on watching advertisements). Also, Government broadcast content shouldn’t be displayed on the network of a private entity, or at least should not rely on it. They just need to face the times and drop the license fee.

        2. Youtube was an example. The claim is so broad that it would include any live stream by anyone, regardless of how it is served. They don’t make that distinction.

          A lot of youtube live streams are meant to be free because their authors (which is not Youtube) want them to be available freely. Not everyone cares to profit, some just do it because they enjoy it.

          But it doesn’t matter, my point is that, why should BBC profit for content it has contributed nothing towards, either through a platform like youtube or any commercial or non commercial server. The above case just makes it even more absurd.

          1. Yes, but youtube streams are NOT free to the public. Someone has to pay for the ads, therefore you viewing a “free” youtube video costs me money, and vice versa. In this way, Youtube as a company (and ad-funded services in general) have tricked themselves the right to tax the public.

  9. It is way before my time, but this reminds me of a great April Fools joke that the (public funded) Dutch Television Foundation (nowadays NOS) played on the Dutch people in 1967. In the news broadcast the day before they announced a countrywide campaign to track so called ‘zwartkijkers’ (dark watchers) by having inspectors drive through the streets with a scanner to catch people watching TV without paying the required license fees. The only mitigation to avoid detection would be to wrap the TV set in aluminium foil. A day after almost all stores were sold out on aluminium foil…

    link (warning: Dutch):

      1. The TV Licence in the UK doesn’t only pay for the ad free content on the BBC, some of it goes to original content creation on the commercial channels.
        Additionally: one of the good things about UK TV is that we have stricter laws regarding the amount and frequency of advertisements, as well as product placements in the programmes themselves. There are also laws about what types of advertisements are allowed to be shown and when certain types of advertisements are allowed to be shown, for instance there’s now a ban on advertising fast food during children’s programmes, and there’s a complete ban on advertising tobacco products.

          1. Oh, totally. And now we get content from the US, where a 1 hour show contains about 35 mins of content once you’ve removed the ads, they still have to pad it with crap to keep to a sensible schedule.

          2. If you remove the outros and intros of each segment for going to commercials and back that don’t actually contribute any info, it’s down to 20 minutes.

      2. Cable and satellite TV may require the use of a special smart card to decode the radio signals. You may run afoul of DMCA laws if you cicumvent encryption because you are not *licensed* to do so. The BBC license is essentially a fee for anyone that watches broadcast television. It would be more robust of a system to just supply set-top boxes that could decode the over-the-air content but that would be very expensive for a license that doesn’t cost that much.

        1. Not really. Those taxes are small amounts. The rest come from donations, those pledge drives. Besides NPR delivers some of the best programming every day, and even every night. I’m listening to it now, WQXR-FM in NYC is one of them. As for PBS its a better way to work on the beginnings of an education then being almighty bored in school. Besides, I find investing in sports stadiums to be a waste of tax money. The teams and their hornswoggled companies will do it themselves, and accomplish nothing.

        2. Wow, interesting. Here in Australia, I very much enjoy listening regularly to NPR along with Deutsche Welle, Netherlands Radio, and the BBC. I think also the Canadian network. They have their segments on a national station called NewsRadio, funded by the ABC. They also broadcast Parliament when in session.
          I’d be lost without it.

      3. Ya. As an American I have an almost involuntary emotional reaction every time TV licenses are mentioned that it is some sort of dystopian big brother thing.

        But let’s be fair about this.

        As a modern internet literate person I have almost as bad a reaction to the thought of watching American TV with all the commercials. We all have a limited amount of time on this world. That’s not how I want to spend mine!

      4. When the FCC made TVRO (TeleVision Receive Only) satellite dishes legal in the USA, they also required that any TV signal containing advertisements, distributed via satellite, could not be encrypted or scrambled. The reasoning was the advertisements should be paying the costs of transmission, therefore the viewers shouldn’t have to pay.

        But eventually either the TV industry lobbied to get that changed or they found a loophole, and the C and Ku bands began to go into the darkness of scrambling. Then came digital, Primestar, Dish, DirecTV, with everything scrambled and encrypted.

      5. Foreign indeed. In the Soviet Union, we had no TV receiving licenses or anything like that (only 3 TV channels, though, 1 local and 2 nationwide). However, we had wired radio access (still have in old houses/apartments) that you have to pay for. Wireless radio was free, of course. And almost every child had an itch to build one from parts widely available in many stores (for peanuts and even for free sometimes).

        Now in Russia, it’s still no tax, but a metric ton of ads, obviously.

        1. I have a few Russian “Cable radios” as I understand it it was a signal overlayd on a DC voltage, but I have found no information I can read about the system.
          I kind of want to make my own transmitter for it and have it brodcast propaganda 24/7 like the wall TV’s from the book 1984
          Fun thing is there is no “Off” button on them, just a volume dial from low to high, i havent checked them for microphones though… *LOL*

        2. Many large Western cities had an early wired audio program, letting the wealthier folks listen to concert halls and operas etc live in the evenings. It was an early 20th century thing, only available where there were live happenings worth transmitting, where population was dense and wealthy enough to pay a subscription such that it was worth investing in “plant” and stringing the wires. Maybe had a 5 year heyday before wire-less broadcasting over radio exploded in popularity and completely eclipsed it, audiences of hundreds becoming audiences of thousands. However it did remain a bit of a thing on some large educational, medical and business campuses, an on site “radio”, often an adjunct to the PA system.

      6. Honest question: as an American, don’t you have to pay to *receive* a phone call? Because I’ve been told that’s the norm in the USA and Canada, and it’s pretty weird for the rest of the world (with the likely exception of a handful of other countries).

        1. In the US (last I was paying for phone service there), with a landline you pay a flat fee for local service with unlimited incoming and outgoing calls. Long distance and international calls (typically to a different area code) cost only the caller on a per minute basis.

          With cellphones (which changes almost yearly, so take this with a grain of salt as I’ve been an expat for a while now), you pay a flat fee to get a set number of minutes of calls (which may in fact be unlimited at this point). You don’t pay extra for long distance calls, but you do for international unless you get the right package. If you use more than your allotted monthly minutes, you pay per minute incoming and outgoing.

          Calls to cellphones do not cost more than a call to a landline.

          Again, it’s probably all different by now, but for a moment in time (2010ish), that was the system.

          1. We did away with local/long-distance calls long ago in Portugal, and I thought the US had done the same as well.
            Our plans are caller-pays only, and the caller may have a minutes package or pay for each minute. Incoming calls are never paid for (maybe with the exception of collect calls, although I’m not sure they still exist – last time I used it was around 2002/2003).
            Call price varies with the destination class – “landline”, “mobile (same carrier)”, “mobile (other carriers)” and “international” (further varying with the destination country).

            This makes entire sense to me. Any plan where the receiving party may pay seems apt to be abused, no? Did you (in the US) have to pay everytime you picked up a call from a telemarketer on a cellphone?

            It’s not all roses, though. We have abysmal data packages – the EU roaming regulations effectively provide us more GBs than our own network providers, so we get more data if we leave the country, not less. I pay 15€/month for my cellphone package with 200 minutes (all carriers except self, which is almost unlimited) and a mere 1GB of data.

            We also pay more to call a cellphone than a landline. I assume this is because nobody uses landlines anymore, themselves being almost exclusively VoIP now so there aren’t many packages that include a landline without also including Internet access.

            Finally, since I see ham radio operators in the comments: entry-level ham radio operators in Portugal (equivalent to the US Technician class) are required to pay airwave-usage fees annually, but are forbidden from transmitting on all bands. In order to be able to push a PTT button, an operator is required to wait 2 years (and pay all fees during those years, amassing over 200€ including exams), and then upgrade to the next class (equivalent to the US General class). So, a Technician class here provides no privileges other than the possibility of advancing to the General class two years later – it’s not possible to obtain the General class without waiting the required two years. It’s a system designed to end amateur radio in Portugal, while also milking money from those who insist on joining the hobby.

            As for the TV detector vans, we also pay for TV service on the electricity bill (36€/year). We call it the “Contribuição Audiovisual”, and RTP, the public radio/television, runs advertisements despite being funded by this tax. So I’m defending our approach to phone calls, but that seems to be the only logical decision around here.

        2. Low end pay as you go services you might pay 25c a minute whether you’re making a call or receiving. Some of the low end monthly plans might have a charge as well, when you exceed your monthly 200 minutes or so. Though there’s versions of either of those that aren’t quite as bad, with free evenings and weekends or something.

          You might think those are a trap for the unwary, but not really if you don’t wanna chatter much and just need emergency contact for as little as possible per month ~10 or 15 dollars. You can get yourself a free VoIP app to make calls you plan to make over wifi. The actual trap for the unwary is companies offering “unlimited” calling with 250MB of data for the same price now… it’s a VoIP app and that smidgen of data is your only mobile connection, no voice. Might work out for you if you never take voice calls (Unless maybe on wifi) and rely on a messenger prog like whatsapp or similar. I think they should be challenged over their advertising, since they’re saying it’s “digital service” which all cell service has been since they turned off analog for good, what, 15 years ago??? … So it sounds like regular voice service but ain’t.

      7. And yet most people in the United States willingly pay hundreds of dollars monthly for hundreds of channels which they could not possibly watch all, and even if they did, they would not have time to do anything else.

        The first thing I did when I bought a house was to rip out cable television. Then I went and bought a good old fashioned TV antenna and put it on the roof because local TV stations in the United States are gratis.

        The neighbors all thought I had either lost my mind, was dumb or both for doing this. For my part, I particularly enjoyed telling them that there is no way in hell that I would be paying for any sort of television programming. They thought I was crazy for not wanting cable television; I thought they were not particularly bright for willingly parting with hundreds of dollars per month to be brainwashed.

        1. I could easily go months watching neither cable nor free to air broadcast tv.

          Everything worth watching is on the internet now. The thing is, unless you are lucky enough to live in one of the few cities with fiber available the best internet connections comes via cable. In many cases the cable company gives a “discount” on the internet price if you also purchase tv which just so happens to be the same as the price of their most basic tv package. Though they might not advertise that package, you might have to ask.

          So you might as well just take the cable.

          Years ago I worked for the local cable company and they explained it to me. They didn’t actually have filters good enough to filter out some of the tv channels while still letting the internet work. Anyone who paid for internet only and thought to throw a splitter on the line got those channels for free anyway so they just came up with that pricing as a trick to make their users pay for it.

          This is no longer an issue now that everything is digital and encrypted but the pricing structure still might remain in some areas.

          I had a few friends that held onto their DSL connections far longer than is rational. They felt they were “sticking it to the cable company” or at least “propping up competition because a market needs competition”. Not really though because there were far too few of them for the cable company to care. And that’s not how competition is supposed to work. Competition is about services trying to be better than one another so that the customers will switch to them. When people stick with an inferior, slower and less reliable service just to try to prop up some competition they are actually removing the need to compete.

          So, anyway yes, cable is overpriced and antennas are free to use but if you think choosing that makes you smarter than someone with cable well.. not if it means you have a crappy internet connection.

          1. >that’s not how competition is supposed to work.

            Yes it is. “Is not from the price-gouging cable company”, can be the criterion that makes the product or service better. If the other company is bad enough that people will choose the technically inferior offering instead, that is a market signal that the other company should change habit.

            It’s like, you don’t HAVE to use Google just because they’re the biggest search engine with the most comprehensive databases. If you do based on that merit alone, THAT will be the killing blow to competition that allows Google to misbehave all they want.

      8. >requiring a license to RECEIVE radio signals

        Yeah it’s silly to require someone to pay to receive a signal. Now please excuse me I need to go clear the snow from my DirecTV dish…

  10. Dang, this seems a bit draconian. Then again, I do hate watching TV commercials.
    At the very least I now understand how the BBC can operate without commercial breaks.

    As a ham radio operator, I can’t help but wonder how easy it would have been to “accidentally” blind one of those vans with a completely legal transmission, such as on the 2 meter band (146 MHz or thereabouts). I wonder what the power limits are for English hams on VHF. Certainly high enough to overload the receivers of one of those vans, I would think. (I’m kidding, I don’t operate in such a way that I cause intentional interference. Still, it’s fun to think about!)

    1. That’s absolutely wrong. The NHK people came to my house a while back, and I don’t have a TV, only a dozen computers, half headless. They asked if I had a TV, I said no. They said ok and left. They didn’t want to come in and check, either. I get nothing in the mail from them, ever. I’ve never paid it once.

      I’ve heard of more brazen fee collectors asking to enter and make sure there were no TVs, but that has never happened to me.

  11. I seem to recall former BBC “license enforcement officers” admitting the vans were mostly a scare tactic. They were usually just watching for the light of a TV being on in a house with no license.

  12. “This is a dog license with the word ‘dog’ crossed out and ‘cat’ written in in crayon.”
    “Man didn’t have the right form.”
    “What man?”
    “The man from the cat detector van.”
    “The loony detector van, you mean.”

    “I never seen so many bleedin’ aerials. The man said their equipment could pinpoint a purr at four hundred yards, and Eric being such a happy cat was a piece of cake.”

  13. All the people from the US complaining about “socialist draconian evil UK” don’t realize that an informed population leads to better elected officials. More TV that isn’t (or at least less) beholden to corporate interests would’ve gone a long way towards preventing our slide into fascism. I’d gladly pay a TV license to ensure NPR, PBS, etc get plenty of funding, just like I gladly pay school taxes despite having no kids.

      1. Being beholden to the corporations leads to the same problem, only in the opposite direction. That is when they aren’t pushing one politicians views over another because of the ratings.

        1. Yes. You are both right.

          Then the internet swoops in to save the day, leveling the playing field by giving voice to common individuals instead of just large corporations and governments.

          And it turns out that’s how you get Q-anon.

          There seems to be no winning, only whining.

          1. And that’s when you realize that it isn’t the TV or media, but how the political system is structured to give too much power to the state, so everyone is using every dirty trick in the book trying to have it.

    1. Sorry, guv, but that’s bollocks. The BBC is busy pushing an agenda, albeit often at odds with our current government. Around the world, state controlled media doesn’t exactly have a good reputation. The BBC’s quality is more due to our relatively polite politics, but it’s been heading downhill rapidly in recently years as our politics becomes as divided as the US’s.

        1. An “impartial” media would pay just as much attention to the leave campaign for the sake of being impartial, giving then undue credibility and visibility, which is the whole paradox of neutrality.

          What you would have needed was strict media control to suppress the lies, but, that would have lead to a situation where the same power to censor the public discourse would instantly turn against the interest of the people. After all, anything can be the truth, when you yourself are defining the truth and enforcing it.

          The moral of the story is, this is a problem you cannot solve by doing something about it, but by doing nothing about it.

    2. “All the people from the US complaining about “socialist draconian evil UK” don’t realize that an informed population leads to better elected officials….”

      Well that’s a failed experiment then in the UK.

    1. Wow, last I had anything to do with one, they were around $80, quite a few years ago. Seemed like a lot then though too. My great aunt used to get one pound fifty worth of stamps for them every week when she collected her “giro”. I heard they stopped the stamp scheme now though.

    2. How much do you pay a month for broadband?

      How much do you pay a month to your cell phone service provider?

      Please do not assume that these services are free.

      In 1923 when the BBC was our only national broadcaster, the licence fee seemed a sensible and fair way to pay for their operational costs.

      Things have changed a lot in the last 100 years – but there have always been charges, either real (phone bill) or hidden (advertising revenue) attached to communication services.

  14. The BBC only took over the enforcement of the licence in 1991.

    Prior to that it was done by the Home Office – a government department, aided by the GPO – essentially our post office authority.

    It originates from The Wireless Telegraphy act of 1904 where every transmitter required to be licenced.

    In 1923, a time when the BBC was the only public broadcaster in the UK, any receiver listening to the BBC required to pay a licence – and it was in the national interest that the BBC was adequately funded.

    Commercial radio and TV stations only appeared in 1955 funding their activities from advertising.

    The actual enforcement of the licence has been put out to subcrontractors, including Capita – a private company, and sub-sub-contractors to Capita.

    The licence is currently £157.50 or $213.90. At $0.586 per day it is a small price to pay compared to other forms of media.

    As usual, the complete story is on Wikipedia

    1. It’s only a small price to pay if you want what they broadcast, when they broadcast it.
      If you don’t, it’s a complete waste of money.
      Regardless, it’s not right that the government backs up one private company like it does.

      1. It’s not so much the “one company” it is that the government make a law requiring you to have then the private sector take advantage. Vehicle insurance being an example and if you think about it so are water rates. Everyone needs water but we have to pay private companies for the privilege of having it.

        There is a lot wrong with things in the UK but I still prefer to live here than any other place I have been to and I reckon that is most of it.

        1. I’m fine with vehicle insurance. It’s only a legal requirement to have 3rd party, which has the purpose of protecting *others* from you. Similarly the legally required employer’s insurance.
          Water rates are paid based on the water you use, same as other utilities. Don’t use it, don’t pay. E.G. if you’re off grid, no water charge, and if you’ve got a cess put, no waste water charges.

    2. In contrast to the UK government’s desire to have control of radio broadcasting, then TV broadcasting, and charging for it even for people who only listened to or watched non-BBC broadcasts – the USA government didn’t want to be in the radio or TV business. So they fostered an open market where network owned and independent stations could put their own money at risk for a license fee that allowed them to broadcast from a specific location, at a specific power, on a specific frequency range. The government collected to license fees and managed the location, power, and frequency assignments. How to pay for the equipment, electricity, and content to broadcast was all left to the broadcasters.

      The listeners and viewers got to tap into all that merely for the cost of a radio or TV receiver. Not requiring millions of people to pay to listen to radio or watch TV (especially people who had to really pinch pennies just to afford a basic radio receiver) was of huge benefit to the broadcasters because it ensured their audience would expand as rapidly as possible – enabling them to charge more for advertisements.

      The launch and initial years of broadcasting in the USA was an example of pure capitalism with the lightest of government regulation (after an initial ‘wild west’ period before frequency allocation and transmission power was regulated). The ones providing the services made money, the ones paying for it all by advertising made money through improved sales, and the public at large benefited by getting news and entertainment for free after the initial cost of reception equipment.

      1. A slight flaw in the argument: it was the public at large who in the end paid for the adverts, not the businesses, so the news and entertainment was never free.

        In any such situation there is a moral hazard: the people who negotiate the price of adverts and the amounts sold are not the same people who end up paying for it. The illusion of free programming ends up with more consumption of media, more adverts being sold over more channels while the businesses compete to eclipse each other and buy all the slots, and the only party that really benefits is the corporations that own and control the media channels. The public is the bait that is used to extract money out of businesses, which the public ends up paying for in the end without anyone’s consent or need for the services provided.

        These days, broadcast television funded by ads is a disservice, because we end up paying all the royalties, licenses and fees through the price of our daily bread whether we watch it or not. This is just as bad as being forced to pay for a public service TV that we don’t want.

        1. It can be worked around somewhat by only buying things that don’t advertise on TV. (I base my purchases based on value comparison, so a company that is spending more on advertising puts themselves at a disadvantage.) Granted, about the only TV I watch nowadays is various free online streaming which I use adblocking on.

          1. Yeah, but the cost of the adverts diffuses around because other people doing other business need to up their prices to pay the added cost in the products they buy.

            Advertising stopped having a point when the market grew to the point that nobody can even measure how many different products there are. It’s no longer about informing the public about products and instead it’s just a waste of money.

          2. Actual studies on click-through rates and eye tracking for online ads shows that people actively avoid even looking at the ads, so the real number might as well be 99.999% wasted effort.

    3. Sorry Ken, my finger slipped and I reported your comment by mistake, how the hell do you cancel a report?

      It’s interesting to note that the fee goes to other stations besides the BBC. Channel 4 has a nice wedge to go with their ads

  15. My cousin and her hubs used to live north of London (they are not UK citizens). They are both engineers and were not at home much and did not watch TV; but they did have several monitors as part of their security system. Over a three year period, they received multiple demands to search premises – all by private people contracted by the BBC. On the fourth ‘visit’ they had to call law enforcement because the license enforcement people were ripping out cables and other wiring as part of their high-tech search methods.

    Brexit resulted in their reprieve from the BBC STASI when their company transferred them to Germany.

    So tell me more about these super-secret sophisticated search technologies.

    1. Yes, I’ve never seen much about the Canadian license, but as a kid fifty years ago the radio in the living room, once I got interested, had a license stapled to the inside of the cabinet.

  16. Shouldn’t be that alien. Look at things like SiriusXM, or cable TV.
    Many cars come with radios equipped to receive subscription radio service, but you have to pay for it if you want to listen. Many houses have connections for cable TV, but
    you have to pay to watch it.

    Call it a license, call it a subscription – same thing, different words.

    1. The difference is that my car has a SiriusXM receiver and I don’t pay the subscription and I don’t listen to it and that’s the end of the story. I am not presumed to be guilty of listening to it without paying and sent threatening letters and so on.

  17. Fantastic article.
    Worrying though how the U.K. government was using anti-nazi tech to spy on its citizens back then, and is still using anti-terror legislation to spy on its citizens now.
    Yay for the U.K.

  18. In Portugal since the begining of TV a tax on the eletricity bill.

    In the present time to detect Tv broadcasting one way is record 5 seconds of sound near the suspect house and compare with samples from all chanells at the precise time.

  19. In Switzerland they have a radical method that do not require any advanced technology :’)
    You must pay (~350 CHF) unless you can prove you have nothing that can pick up a TV or radio signal
    (and since a single transistor is enough the task is close to impossible.)

  20. I used to get visits from enforcement officers a few years back – I owned a TV but didn’t require a license as I only stream and never watch live broadcast. It got to the point of harassment. What you can do, it turns out, is revoke their implied access rights to your property. You write to TV Licensing and just state that you’re revoking their implied access rights, they should write back confirming they’ve received your instruction. From that point on they can’t come onto your property unless they are accompanied by Police, else it’s trespassing. Once I did that, they stopped bothering me – haven’t been back since. Haven’t even received a stern letter since. A little off topic but might help someone in a similar situation.

  21. I used to bug my sister listening to an upper end AM radio station by tuning down by 455 with a crappy 4 tube AM radio I had, this in the 60’s. 20 years ago with a scanner in the low VHF band I could pickup the neighbor’s TV sound intermediate frequency and hear what they were listening to. This would have applied to British teleys.

    I wonder what state control of radio and TV could do to ensure receiver performance standards. That crappy 4 tube radio I had couldn’t separate the 2 local AM’s at 30kHz. I could only listen to WLS after our pre-NPR station signed off at 10PM, tasks that any radio like all car radios that have an IF stage of gain and selectivity can do. A half century later and there still crappy radios sold that can’t work at those respectable standards. Now our FM NPR station gets “hammered” (2 clicks separation) by a sports talk repeater of one of those 30kHz apart daytimer AM stations and it takes a real radio with an RF stage to get the NPR station, clock radio, walkman, jambox, they all fail. I crammed a car radio into a chunky but wearable box back in the 80’s. Upgraded to lithium power it still is the only way to listen out of a car or when not at home with a real receiver.

    We have several new low power TV stations when I aim the antenna at nearby towers I get them but the 20mi distant original local channel (same direction) gets knocked out by those close ones. I found a half way aim that works finally. In the analogue world it’s easy to grade performance, but in digital modes it’s not clear if there is interference.

  22. I’ve heard of this before, but it seems to be a European thing. in the USA we have never paid a receiver tax. We do have a public broadcaster which is partially funded out of general tax revenue.

  23. Many years ago when I first heard that in the UK you had to have a paid licence to own a TV, I thought it such an absurd notion that it had to be a silly joke.

    Here in Australia we’ve never had anything of the sort, to my knowledge. Although to be fair we are taxed a small (and IMO very worthwhile) amount to fund the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. They even ran advertisements for it long ago, “8 cents a day funds your ABC”. No idea what the amount is nowadays.

  24. During the 90’s New Zealand had a Broadcasting fee which each household had to pay annually. It was about $120 NZD which at the time was probably anywhere between $50-$60 USD.

    There were television detection van’s though I’d never seen one. I believe my farther wasn’t paying the fee because of his paranoid comments about detection vans.

    The fee was scrapped when the public pushed back on it and questioned whether it was a fee or a tax and if it was a tax why did we pay GST (Goods and Services Tax) on top of it.

    1. But it got the governments addicted to the tobacco tax, so now they’re trying extra hard to push laws that keep people away from the alternatives – such as any form of smokeless tobacco, nicotine liquids for vaping – so they wouldn’t lose the revenue from taxing cigarettes.

      After all, the high tax on smoking is justified by reducing the public health risks of smoking, and if the risk goes away so does the justification for the tax, and so does the money which the government has already committed to spend. In this way, all “vice taxes” are merely means to extract money out of the public — they ultimately do not achieve their point.

  25. Sweden had the exact same system until a few years ago, and now we pay it on the tax instead.

    I liked the old system, then I could avoid paying for the crap the national broadcast company SVT was sending out.
    Of course I have always had TV recievers, but I have never payed the licence fee.

    They had kids make videos telling people to pay the licence fee, and they came up with the punishment for watching without paying “then we put a snail on your eye”

  26. “An LCD television in the home can just as easily be displaying output from a video game console or an online streaming service, with both being usage cases that do not require the owner to pay a licence fee.”

    Except in south africa, new laws are being put into place which will require any device capable of receiving and displaying video content to require a TV license. This will include your smartphone watching netflix. Very odd.

  27. One factual error. They aren’t allowed to look into your windows to see if you are watching TV. That breaches the Human Rights Act, so they have to come up with some other excuse.

  28. They are looking at snooping wifi traffic to see if it contains data from their iPlayer service. They can ‘finger print’ a packet of data for a given connection. From what I remember they were told NO because it would need a warrant. And was basically spying tech.

  29. One bit of info with TV licences in the UK (at least up until the late 90s) was that shops selling televisions were supposed to pass on the name and address of customers who purchased one.
    Presumably a database could then be checked to see who did not have a licence but had a telly. Nothing to stop the customer giving fake details though.

    Source: Used to work in a TV repair/sales shop

    1. A friend of mine used to work in a big electrical retailer, they had a box where they put the registration cards collected by staff when people bought TVs. They were supposed to forward them on but many had obviously false names, like Lizzie Windsor, M Mouse, or Mr B Bird, and addresses to match.
      There was never any legal enforcement for this but one retailer stood their ground when I was buying an expensive TV set and refused to fill one in. I left and bough the same set from the competitors oposite.

    2. Yes, this is actually how the TV detection worked. I’m fairly skeptical of this article because everything I have read previously suggests that the TV detection vans never existed and were just a scare tactic.

      These days they just assume everybody has a TV and they have a database of which houses don’t have a TV licence.

    1. I came on to post the same. A very interesting article – I’ve heard of detector vans though not the history – but please update the article title. You are conflating England with United Kingdom – not the same thing.

      It’s a bit like assuming North America = USA.

      Of course, when Scotland goes independent and the union breaks up, England can have “United Kingdom” all to itself if it likes, but until then… ✊

      1. Well in this context it doesn’t matter because it’s all the same anyway. All you have to say is “in England” and you don’t have to mention the whole United Kingdom, because it makes sense that every other country in the UK would have most of the same laws as England, that are made by Westminster. Basically in this context England – Nuff said.

        And I get that countries with some independent parliments like Scottish Parliment, might have slightly different laws, but this article is talking about times before they even existed. All acts of Parliament in future have to be accepted by Scotland have to be made UK law by Westminster, and Scotland can make their own laws for scotland that don’t apply to England but presumably all existing laws UK from before the scottish parliment – like the TV license – were accepted as law, and aren’t repealed unless Westminster and the scottish parliment agree.

        And I get that Scotland might become independent but don’t expect things to change that much. Im guessing they have no problem with the TV license law, they would probably keep it and just create their own scottish, state broadcaster, an equivalent of the BBC, and that’s what it would pay for.

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