But I *want* to pay my TV License

There’s a bit of a storm brewing at the moment that has been simmering for a
while on the Isle of Man. As an offshore jurisdiction, with our own tax rules
and economic regulation, there is a continuing confusion about why
we should pay the TV License
. The TV License, often called the “BBC Tax”, is
an annual payment of about £138 which chiefly goes towards the BBC, although
some goes to the broadcast infrastructure. In the future, with Channel 4’s
current financial problems, some of it may also help prop up Channel 4’s public
service remit.

Unfortunately, however, there seems to be an increasing resistance to paying the TV License on the island, seemingly only because we can get away with it. The Isle of Man’s geographical location, sandwiched neatly between Cumbria in England and Northern Ireland means we can catch a TV signal from either coast.
Indeed, Northern parts of the island currently enjoy a full complement of digital channels – more than the Isle of Man will enjoy when we finally switch to digital in 2009.

The revenue collection of the TV License has always been difficult on the island, with a large number of people actively not paying it due to the difficulties the TV Licensing Authority have in gaining access to the island’s residents and legal system. A recent problem the TV Licensing Authority hit was when they came over on to the island in force to enforce revenue collection, only to be told to go back as they hadn’t applied for th required work permits. Comical, yes. I suspect someone in the UK didn’t to their homework. Subsequent arrangements of enforcement have been better planned.

In Manchester, I received a number of benefits of being a TV License payer. I didn’t resent it, although requiring students to own their own individual licenses without provision of a single license by the halls of residence was a little unfair. As an island resident, I don’t enjoy the same benefits.

TV License Benefits
Available In
Manchester Isle of Man
Analogue service Yes Yes
Digital service Yes No
Radio broadcast Yes Yes
DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast) Yes Partial (geographical restrictions)
Broadcast infrastructure Yes Yes (2 transmitters)
Use of BBC Internet site Yes Yes
Access to archives using iPlayer Yes Yes
Access to Freeset/Freesat from Sky platforms Yes Yes

So seems to me we still get a pretty good deal. I am the first to complain
when the BBC launch services that are not available on the island. I am used to
multi-channel broadcasting over terrestrial on the digital platform, digital
radio stations and Internet services. DAB was only recently launched on the
island, and it was a very quiet launch. Unfortunately, I “lost touch” with my
favoured radio station, 6 Music, in the meantime as a result of the lack of
service.

If we, as an island, ceased to pay the TV License, we could have serious
implications on our content. Some users on the island may be able to obtain a
signal leaking from one of the adjacent coasts, but otherwise the island would
be without a terrestrial TV signal. Due to the slow implementation of
technologies by the BBC and broadcasting infratsructure, the island has no real
digital option and won’t have when the island goes digital next year (only the
primary channels being available). This has resulted in over 70% of houses on
the island having to be fitted with satellite receiving equipment, so equivelant
content to the UK can be obtained. What about the other 30%? Those people are
very likely to be vulnerable people, people on low incomes, people who don’t
want to deface their property with a satellite dish or people who cannot
physically access a line-of-sight signal. Surely the very group who should not
be deprived of TV access would be vulnerable groups? It is often their only
company and source of information, particularly in the winter months. The BBC could actively
block our access to the BBC web site, and associated network services. iPlayer, in particular, will likely disappear as it specifically states that content is made available subject to
payment of the License Fee. Bernard Moffat, quoted in
the Courier this week, seems to be encouraging people to steal the TV services
from the UK and use satellite services to access the services for those unlucky
enough not to be able to access a leaking signal from Northern Ireland or
England. I am distinctly unhappy about this. £138 for a TV License is not a lot
of money, if he is concerned about the cost of the license he should put his
efforts in arranging a subsidy for people who struggle to afford the fee, not
advocating theft of a service that people in the UK are paying for. It is by
happy coincidence that we have leaking signals from the UK of digital
terrestrial and are in the beam area of satellite broadcasting, but with the
increasingly complex and advanced DRM mechanisms, it may not be long before
equipment bought in the Isle of Man may be actively blocked. Is he also not
considering the possibility (remote though it is) of satellite failure? A
satellite may fail due to any number of reasons (space debris, systems
malfunction, etc.) and repairs/replacement is not cheap and could leave the
island without television for weeks or months.

I’ve had this debate with non-UK citizens in various forums. People who can’t
understand a “TV Tax”. Putting aside the immensely expensive broadcast
infrastructure, programme content, news gathering and other services, the TV
License pays for a fair and unbiased content provision mechanism that is not
muddied by commercialism, political leaning or aspirations and is ultimately
responsible for the development of many technologies we now take for granted:
colour television, HD content, digital radio are but some of the more visible
technologies developed by the BBC, at least in part.

If we, as an island, endorse outright theft of service leakage unless you can
afford a Sky subscription (and don’t mind submitting youself to the Murdoch
empire and customer service experience), then we’re going be even more
ostracised than we currently are due to our tax status. Not a way to make
friends and influence people when you’re a small island in uncertain financial
times.

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