Should people who don’t own a telly, but do watch TV over the net, still pay the TV Licence fee? The current legal situation is actually pretty straightforward. But the BBC Trust is getting worried and, in its review of the BBC’s licence collection efforts, says the government should change the law to establish the rules in light of technological change…
As former BBC future media director Ashley Highfield wrote last year: “At the moment, the legal position is that you don’t need a licence to watch TV purely on-demand, but you do if you are watching TV live (online).”
— To pay… ?: On the one hand, the trust says the current law should be stuck to: “The BBC executive should seek to improve public awareness of the TV licensing law surrounding the use of technology, such as the internet, to access television services.”
— … Or not to pay?: On the other hand, it warns that, with 40 percent of students already watching TV only with their laptops, “some segments” are already circumventing licence ownership by swapping their TVs for PCs; so: “Legislative change is likely to be required in order to reflect technology changes in the licence fee regulations and the trust has therefore not explored this further within this review.”
The trust said three percent of UK homes have no TV set – but viewing through “new technologies” is still only “supplementary” to TV viewing (ie. anyone who views online is also likely to have a telly): It is not yet clear whether households are likely to switch to internet streaming as the sole method of watching television, avoiding the use of a dedicated television set.”
As Highfield wrote last year: “If we saw, over time, that some people stopped receiving live broadcasts at all, stopped paying their licence fee, but continued to consume televison programmes, solely on-demand through the iPlayer (or other players), then we might have to consider talking to the Government about Part 4 of the Communications Act 2003 and the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004, so that they can then consider whether on-demand tv viewing might be brought within its aegis.” So the ball’s in the government’s court – but the TV License was not a component of Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report.