Tuesday 29 January 2008

Today I put a TV card into my computer. I actually got it to help my girlfriend digitise some VHS videos, but the cheapest and most usable-in-the-future way to do this was to grab a card which also has a Freeview digital and analogue TV tuner.

I decided, therefore, to look into telly licensing so as not to be in breach of any laws of the land. Plus, I like the BBC, and don’t begrudge them the license fee. Well, only a bit. If they spent less of it on shit programming and more on the website, I’d probably begrudge it even less.

First off, I wanted to try to work out what the chances of getting caught were. After all, there’s no point stumping up £131.50 per annum if you can get away with a £1,000 fine every hundred years—the economics of criminality don’t come much more simple than that.

Statistics are hard to come by; the BBC withhold information for everything from number of licence evaders to how exactly their mystical TV detectors work on the basis that ‘disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime’. The TV licensing website claims that 1,000 people are caught every day—yikes!!—so that’s about 365,000 per year.

At this point I was forced again to turn to the Daily Mail (why do all the statistics on this ’blog have to come from there? In this case my excuse is that I was pointed there by a BBC response to a freedom of information request—I do not just visit the site every time I want to find something out, like some kind of right-wing-kipedia). In a PR piece for the TV detector people, they seemed to have the only number on the estimated number of evaders—1.4 million. A bit of simple maths later, and you find that you’ve got about a 1-in-4 chance of getting caught.

Now the other unknown is the level of the fine—it can be anything up to a grand and some time in prison, but obviously to tell you what the typical fine or punishment was would prejudice the prevention or detection of crime (just like knowing how long I’d be put away for murder encourages me to go out and knock off a few people I don’t like). If it is always one thousand of your British pounds, not only is it vastly uneconomic (with the cost of evasion shooting to £250/annum, almost twice what you’d pay legally), but the Beeb are sitting on a £365M/year industry of evader-catching. So slightly more profitable than jailing serial killers.

This seems pretty unlikely, but throw in the increased likelihood of getting caught in a student town like Oxford and the fact that I don’t really begrudge the Beeb it anyway, and it’s looking like it’s worth stumping up. I mean, come on, it’s barely over a tenner a month, you cheapskate–Daily-Mail-reading–‘they-only-spend-it-on-programmes-for-bloody-immigrants-anyway’–bastard.

However, I also found a rather bizarre fact. Did you know that

The licence (whether colour or black and white) is free if you are 75 or over, and half-price if you are registered blind.

Aww. How sweet. They let the oldies get it free, and blindies get it half price because they can only get half the enjoyment—the sound. Isn’t Auntie lovely?

Leaving aside the debate about whether TV’s entertainment really is 50% sound (and whether, if it is, you’d be better off buying three radios than a telly), there are a couple of funny things about it.

First, the deaf don’t get a similar 50% discount, even though they only get the 1930s silent-movie picture ‘half’ of the fun, without even having the option of a jaunty, honky-tonk piano soundtrack to enliven the slapstick of audio-free DIY SOS.

But secondly…

If you use a set-top box with a hi-fi system or another device that can only be used to produce sounds and can't display TV programmes, and you don’t install or use any other TV receiving equipment, you don’t need a TV Licence.

Cheeky sods!

So, if you really are completely blind (and I know that to be registered blind you need not quite be, so shut up you pedantic git), you’re better off getting a set-top box and a set of speakers, which you’re allowed for free, rather than staring with your empty eyes at the magic box of invisible moving pictures.

As it happens, not only am I not registered blind but our aerial socket in the wall doesn’t work, so the digital tuner doesn’t find squat and we can only receive one analogue channel, which seems to be Snow and Hiss TV: Classic White Noise Hits of the 90s! I’m not sure it’s worth £131.50 a year.

And, because in the case of TV licensing you’re guilty ’til proven innocent, I now have to write a grovelly letter to Bristol explaining that the TV card is just for digitising videos and that we can’t receive a TV signal anyway. I’m going to stick on an addendum explaining that I haven’t done any murders, either. Better safe than sorry.

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