For those immigrating from outside of Europe, it feels abhorrent to learn about a government-imposed “license fee” on TV owners. As someone flying in from the U.S. and having roots in India, I was shocked to learn about this archaic practice still being upheld, especially in a developed country.
In the United Kingdom, the TV license fee — costing £157.50 annually, is a legal requirement imposed on any household that watches or records live television, regardless of on which equipment: TV, computer or smartphone. However, the fee itself largely funds only BBC.
In this techno-savvy world of streaming apps embracing subscription-based models and TV channels relying on ad revenue, the concept of TV license sounds obsolete in itself, let alone forcing the public into paying a repressive fee for nothing.
There are some good reasons to do away with the practice in 2020.
Digital technology and evolving funding models
Numerous services and even cable TV channels that were ad-funded, have already transitioned to subscription and app-based funding models, keeping up with the digital world.
Moreover, it’s a win-win. Technological advancements have made delivering streamable content over the internet far more cheaper and reliable for both the provider and the consumer.
Streaming further bypasses miscellaneous broadcasting fees, legislation, censorship requirements, and cuts out dependence on middlemen: cable providers.
Zero tangible benefits
After centuries of consumerist conditioning by competitive markets upselling various products that provide promising features and measurable benefits to buyers, one can’t help but wonder what does a hefty £13 monthly “license fee” even grants the consumer? Merely a permission to watch live TV in a developed, democratic, ‘free’ society.
Contrast this cost with phone plans in Britain starting at £5 a month, and the cheapest Netflix plan priced at £5.99 — both of which provide substantial service to consumers.
Moreover, the whole “license fee let you watch live TV” argument is a paradoxical smokescreen. Almost all of the TV channels are already funded by ad revenue and retransmission fees. TV license largely funds BBC alone — regardless of whether you watch BBC or not.
You must pay a fee for watching live TV, which has nothing to do with live TV!
BBC isn’t what it used to be
An organisation once largely entrusted by the British public for upholding its uncompromising standard of unbiased reporting and ‘fair’ coverage of world news has gone downhill in the last decade. Numerous reports have sprung up in recent times accusing BBC of inaccurate and one-sided coverage on sensitive issues, making them no different from any other media outlet — ad-funded or owned by political oligarchs.
Public shouldn’t be compelled into paying for a service that they do not use, no longer need and most importantly, no longer trust.
For a democratic society in a developed world, blessed with freedoms of press and speech, and for a digitally advanced population that learns QWERTY well before the English alphabet, imposing such a cost hampers free flow of information.
As if tightly controlling TV transmission in the name of licensing wasn’t enough, the fee is particularly repressive for older and poor people. The government does let over 75s get a ‘free license’ after they explicitly apply for it, the fee still needs to be paid by those over 65, and those who are poor.
If the old, the poor and those without the means can receive information virtually at no cost over the radio and the internet, why should they be paying to the government for doing so over TV?
It’s true you do not need to pay the license fee if you purely use streaming services for watching pre-recorded shows not being shown on live TV, but that still doesn’t rationalise having to throw money at a repressive tax which grants the society nothing.
TV license is a concept with remnant echoes of autocracy in it. It’s a dent in the face of what a liberal and democratic society should look like, which sparks a bigger debate. The issues we dealt with in 1923 which led to the fee’s inception were very different and have long been resolved today — which begs the question, what’s in a “TV license?”
© 2020. Akshay “Ax” Sharma. All Rights Reserved.