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The Almighty Buck Technology

British Government Considers Tax on Computers 638

Jumbo Jimbo writes "A story in the UK Times talks about the UK government's proposals to tax personal computers, as a replacement for the television license currently paid by every household with a TV. These are proposals and aren't intended for a few years yet, but due to the growth of computer ownership, this would probably amount to a tax on nearly everybody. Hope it's not per computer, or those people with a pile of old 286s in the shed could be in for a shock."
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British Government Considers Tax on Computers

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  • Hmmm (Score:5, Informative)

    by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:28AM (#11842628) Homepage Journal
    I know its better than old news, but are you aware that this is just one of many possible schemes, and that none of them are due to take effect before 2017.

    • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

      by onion2k ( 203094 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:42AM (#11842682) Homepage
      I'd wager a large sum that there'll be no new tax per se, but the television license will be changed to say you need one if you have "any device capable of receiving programme broadcasts". By 2017 that'll include your brain. Maybe.
      • Re:Hmmm (Score:2, Insightful)

        by gowen ( 141411 )
        "any device capable of receiving programme broadcasts"
        That's already the law (you need one for a PC with a TV card). I imagine they'll just redefine "broadcast" to cover webcasts.
        • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

          by FinestLittleSpace ( 719663 ) * on Friday March 04, 2005 @07:00AM (#11842747)
          Nope, the law is if you're USING the device to recieve broadcasts. IF you're using it for other purposes (Camcorder, DVD player etc) you don't have to pay.
          • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Informative)

            by MancDiceman ( 776332 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @09:40AM (#11843416)

            If you have a tuning crystal (or equivalent) you have to pay unless you can prove it has never been used for the purpose of receiving TV programs. So, unless you live in a Faraday cage and can prove you have no way of receiving the programs, you have to pay.

            Having a TV you never turn on does not exempt you. Not having an aerial does not exempt you. Using your TV for other things and never watching TV does not exempt you.

            The license is for capability, not use.
            • Re:Hmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

              by operagost ( 62405 )
              That's bad for the same reason that laws prohibiting devices capable of breaking encryption or sharing copyrighted works are bad.
            • Re:Hmmm (Score:3, Insightful)

              by daviddennis ( 10926 )
              However, if you never turn on the TV, the detector vans they send around to check license compliance won't find it and so the law becomes unenforceable.

              (Wow, that sounds like paranoid ranting from an American perspective, but I understand enforcement is actually done that way in the UK).

              I don't think people are about to stop watching TV in exchange for PC-based watching, so I don't see much validity in the license fee for computers.

              From what I can see, the Media Center PC is still a flop.

            • No you're wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Dan Hayes ( 212400 )
              No it isn't. At my last house we said we weren't using our TV for watching TV programs, they said that was fine and they'd send someone round to double check it wasn't tuned in at some point - although they hadn't in the six months between then and when I moved out.

              They do hide the fact that you can do this pretty well though.

    • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TiggsPanther ( 611974 ) <tiggs@m[ ] ['-vo' in gap]> on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:47AM (#11842709) Journal
      ...and that none of them are due to take effect before 2017.

      Good. Another 12 years before I risk trying to evade certain taxes.

      I'm sorry, but on this one they can go jump. VAT already means that over a hundred quid of a decent computer goes towards absolutely nothing to do with the manufacture or sale fo the actual equipment. That's more than the cost of some of the components, and almost as much as a retail copy of Windows.

      Yes, I know that governments have to get their money somewhere. It just seems wrong to me that, for example, if going for a 12" iBook with a 60GB drive, 512MB RAM and Bluetooth module the cost of the upgrades is 3GBP less than the cost of the tax incurred.
      (And that's with upgrades that some people class as being overpriced compared to third-party alternatives)

      • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

        by geordie_loz ( 624942 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @07:11AM (#11842782) Homepage
        I can see where they are coming from with this. I think that there are good reasons for this. There should not be an extra tax per-se, but the TV Licence to cover computers too would be a good thing overall. There may well be people who have computers and no TV, so that's increased revenue. If the BBC recieved revenue from another stream then their production will have to reflect that too.

        Ultimately this means that for my TV License fee the BBC will have to provide internet streams of those programs in a free and open way (ala direc codec?). This is pretty good, the BBC already make most stuff available (Radio) for the week after broadcast, and have some channels internet streamed (News 24), so a license fee would likely bring more of this.

        I pay for the BBC already, so expanding it to my computer (where I actually access it most) is fine by me.
    • Silly person, your talking about a government and a way of raising money through taxes. They are of course willing to push this ahead if "need be".
      A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture said that it was not worried for now, but insiders said that the department would act if internet viewing took off.
      Never underestimate a government looking for a new source of revenue, especially when they see the old as losing potential.
    • Re:Hmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Angstroem ( 692547 )

      I know its better than old news, but are you aware that this is just one of many possible schemes, and that none of them are due to take effect before 2017.

      Maybe in the UK, maybe where you live -- but in Germany such a "Computer Tax" will be introduced in 2007 as an extension of the current "broadcast reception fee" which every holder of a radio or TV has to pay. No idea about the situation in the UK, but in Germany public broadcasting stations are installed by law and have to provide a so-called "bas

  • Total conjecture (Score:5, Informative)

    by tom taylor ( 610506 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:30AM (#11842633) Homepage
    There is so much conjecture and guess work in this, that I don't know where to start. The BBC has only just had its charter renewed for the next 10 years, so imagining what will happen after that is total guess work.
  • Hard to enforce (Score:3, Informative)

    by CdBee ( 742846 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:32AM (#11842638)
    unless they'll levy the tax on components as well they can hardly prevent me from building my own, it'd be difficult to implement on eBay as well.
    • Re:Hard to enforce (Score:2, Informative)

      by womullan ( 764729 )
      They enforce tv license by visiting to see if you have a tv . They dont care if its home made or where you got it. mmm guess that means you have to pay a license even on stolen TVs :)
      • Retailers are also required to record your address and send it in to TV Licensing if you buy a TV, but I think they basically assume anyone without a license is likely to be breaking the law. Anyone with no TV can expect a lots of visits to check.
        • Anyone with no TV can expect a lots of visits to check.

          Not really.

          I haven't had a TV for five years. They sent me lots of threatening letters for the first couple of years, and I diligently responded to them.

          After a while, I got sick of ansering their increasingly aggressive letters (huge bold font "What will YOU do when we visit ELMS CLOSE?"). When I stopped answering, they stopped sending. We had 1 (one) visit from them, about three years ago. My wife was too busy with the kids and said she di
  • by Pantero Blanco ( 792776 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:32AM (#11842639)
    ...When TVs are becoming replaced by computers as a method of visual communication. It's far easier to live without a TV than a computer now, and they know that. So much for the people protesting the tax by not using a TV, if this goes through.
  • Saw this yesterday (Score:2, Informative)

    by tezza ( 539307 )
    also see The Register []

    Not mooted until 2017 currently. The playing field will be a lot different by then, so it may be moved forward.

    I would expect the fees would be a lot lower than the £120 TV licence currently in place. PC users would not be accessing BBC content 24/7.

  • Not convinced (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Richie1984 ( 841487 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:32AM (#11842643)
    I'm a big fan of the BBC's independence, and also of the license fee to pay for it, therefore I would like to continue seeing the BBC funded by the taxpayer for the forseeable future. Saying that, I'm not entirely convinced that a computer tax is the right way to go about this.

    If you buy a television, you're pretty likely to be watching tv shows on it, and therefore the license fee seems like a good idea. With PCs, the scope of activity is pretty much unlimited, so I can't really see the connection between computers and BBC funding. Although, this may all change in the future as no-one really yet knows how television will eventually integrate with computers. All we can do is speculate.
  • Grumble grumble already paying 17.5% VAT on anything and everything with a transistor in grumble grumble computer prices already terribly high in the UK grumble grumble... ;-)

    If the issue is that people will one day (heh) be able to watch the telly thanks to broadband internet at home, why not have a small but compulsory licence fee on home internet connections? It's not like conventional TV where any old bit of wire can pick up the transmissions, you'd need a suitably authorised ISP and whatever to connec
  • Time to throw all your computers into the ocean in protest of this tax! Get ready for the revolution and be ready to attack on Christmas....when they least suspect it! To glorious battle we go!
  • by dosius ( 230542 ) <> on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:42AM (#11842684) Journal
    "Here's one for you, nineteen for me"


  • It should be noted that current licence is effectively based around *households* if I remember rightly. You buy a licence, it doesn't matter how many TVs you've got in your house, they are all covered. I do believe though that when you buy a tv you are technically required to register it under your name and address still (old radio law?). However, if we are to assume that the BBC retains its status as the national broadcasting organisation, protected by law and financed by a licence fee, then it makes sense
  • Some perspective (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nagora ( 177841 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:50AM (#11842720)
    This story should read: "a mid-grade civil servant in the UK's least powerful government department was asked to draw up a list of every possible way of funding the BBC. One of the two dozen or so ideas he and his friends came up with was that a tax covering any device that can display BBC programmes. This suggestion was then ignored by everyone except Rupert Murdoch who put it on the front page of his paper 'The Times' as a way of scaring people who will think this is unfair and therefore the BBC should be scrapped and leave the field to Sky (prop: Mr R. Murdoch)."


  • Article summary (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The actual article is quite short and brief, but I condense it here to attempt to avoid questions answered in the article.

    "THE BBC licence fee should be replaced by a tax on the ownership of a personal computer instead of a television, ministers said yesterday.

    Tessa Jowell told the BBC that the licence fee would be retained for at least another ten years until 2017 in return for abolishing the Board of Governors. But the Culture Secretary conceded that technological advances would mean that a fee based on
  • Go for it! (Score:3, Funny)

    by pandrijeczko ( 588093 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:55AM (#11842735)
    Provided that the money raised goes into an education initiative to give Joe Bloke some government sponsored training into how to use his computer properly, I don't see a problem.

    Even go a stage further and insist every household has to have someone with a PC use accreditation to be able to connect to the Internet.

    As a computer geek, I'm sick and tired of having to endlessly fix the crappy Windows PCs of friends and relatives, I'm totally bored with spending time keeping my machines (both Linux and Windows ones) updated only to still have my Internet connection slow to a crawl every time the latest Windows worm hits and maybe the government can "sponsor" non-commercial citizens' web-sites so that I'm not constantly bombarded by banner ads and pop-ups every time I load a page in my browser.

    UK Gov. can even go a stage further and send out a free Knoppix CD with each PC Tax registration form :-)

  • by POPE Mad Mitch ( 73632 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:55AM (#11842737) Homepage
    Incase anybody didn't notice, this comment was made as part of a general debate on possible loop holes and issues that might exist when the 10 year renewal is up, it was not part of any formal law or decision making process.

    As an MP was rightly pointing out, there is a potential loophole where a household may not own any televisions at all, and only computers and monitors (without any tv tuner card, as thats already covered) through which they may be able to watch the increasing amount of tv programs the bbc make available over the internet, and thus avoid paying the tv license fee under the current rules.

    its pretty obvious that someone is going to suggest 'tax all computers instead then' as a solution to that loop hole, it doesnt mean thats sensible or will ever be seriously considered, its just media sensationalism on an otherwise dull topic.
  • I can't really see that many people having a computer but no TV, but even so this isn't a bad idea.

    They could just add a small percentage tax to the sale of all new computers, and use the funds raised to develop interesting projects like Westminster Wireless City [], or to start giving us proper broadband speeds (ie 10/100 Mbs) in London (obviously they shouldn't bother with any of this stuff in the North or the countryside).

    • The problem with this is it would be sticking extra tax on computers on top of the VAT which, unless I'm very much mistaken, I'm not alone in wishing was reduced.

      I always find the ex-VAT price to be pretty much what I want to pay. Granted lessening tax would probably not see an equivalent drop in prices but at least the money would be staying somewhere within the computer/sales industry. (It's the going outside that ticks me off)

      I do think that retail prices would still stay kinda low to stop people fee

    • (obviously they shouldn't bother with any of this stuff in the North or the countryside)

      Yes, I personally can't wait to pay extra on my next computer purchase so you lot can sit by the Thames sipping shandy and downloading Olympic Bid screensavers over your free WLAN :p

      Concerned, of Aberdeen

  • tax on windows? (Score:3, Informative)

    by migloo ( 671559 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @06:59AM (#11842744)
    Once upon a time in Europe, there used to be a tax on windows (they were considered a sign of wealth)
    • Re:tax on windows? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rarity ( 165626 )
      Absolutely true. You can still see older buildings in Scotland (where I live) with "fake" windows - there's an appropriately-sized window shape in the wall, but it's solid stone and the window's just painted on over it. People used to make these when they wanted to avoid paying the window tax, but didn't want to spoil the symmetry of their house.
  • by Blowfishie ( 677313 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @07:00AM (#11842748)
    I grew up in the UK and enjoyed watching TV as most folk do. We'd mutter and grumble about the damn TV license and existence of detector vans, but paid for it and carried on with life.

    I've since emigrated to Australia and here is where you see what effect the TV licence has: the BBC stations provide a benchmark of quality that the commercial stations have to match and they generally do. Well, compared to the Australian stations, they do.

    Australian commercial stations treat the audience like a numbers game. They won't make a commitment to a series unless it keeps getting great ratings, and by 'commitment', I mean that they won't keep a series in prime time long enough for it to the story to mature and to catch on (examples: Farscape got booted to beyond midnight after about 4 episodes and you should have seen the backflip with The Sopranos series 4) or they'll decide to axe a show because the station owner doesn't like what he sees (example: Packer pulling the "Michallef" show because of a comment Michallef made).

    They show movies, but intersperse them with so many adverts, animated station ID's, "what's next" scrolling banners and the like that you lose any sense of the 'magic' that a good movie can bring. Maybe British TV has gone to hell since I left, but I doubt it can be as bad as commercial Australian TV.

    A solution for viewing sanity is the PVR and here's where I link back to the posted topic: by taxing PCs, the British government ministers are looking to the future (2017) when TVs are computers in their own right and internet broadcasting is a much, much bigger phenomenon. Provided that the tax keeps the quality of programming high, then you can't complain - the money is going where it should and you don't end up with a crappy viewing experience.

    • I totally agree with everything but your last para: when your purpose is public service broadcasting and news collection, what sense does it make to raise the money via a tax on the facility with which you watch?

      Not only does that (by forcing ratings requirements into the equation) undermine the principle of pursuing quality and fairness above all, but it has no sensible basis as a means of raising tax*.

      The Beeb should receive a block grant, possibly index linked, possibly derived from the number of recei
    • Elitist! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mangu ( 126918 )
      Overall, what your comment says is that people in general don't know good quality TV when they see it, so they should pay a tax so that the wise elders can create good quality shows.

      Let me ask you this: who defines "quality" in TV? If no one wants to watch what you call "quality" TV, then why should they pay a tax for it? The only possible just and reasonable justification for a tax on TV would be if the results were distributed among producers based on viewer ratings. Anything else would be, at least, und

    • Oh look would you people just grow up. Farscape is shit. Don't misunderstand, I love it, but it's shit. It was never a prime time show (particularly in Oz), it should never have been put on in prime time because it would never appeal to a wide enough mainstream audience to justify prime time advertising costs. What's scary is that it more effective for them to put guthy/renker home shopping shit on between 2am and 5am rather than just streaming all the great series that we miss in Oz (SF, drama, comedy, w
  • 1st, Tax on owning a computer?, or owning a computer you could potentially use to watch BBC's internet broadcasting?
    • "
    • A legal loophole highlighted by the communications regulator Ofcom means that viewers could watch television and listen to radio over the internet and mobile devices free, potentially costing the BBC millions of pounds in licence fees"

    ... um, ... then close it down for the (whole) 'public' ... and stick to your paying users, the BBC have allready implemented, albeit only for international

  • So if I build my own computer I don't pay? bring it on!!!!

    Seriously though, they will need to ban self built computers if they wish to tax as many people as possible.
  • From TFA:

    A legal loophole highlighted by the communications regulator Ofcom means that viewers could watch television and listen to radio over the internet and mobile devices free, potentially costing the BBC millions of pounds in licence fees.

    Um, so who's forcing the BBC to provide content for free on the net? And how is this justification for a tax on anyone who owns a computer, whether they use it to access BBC content or not? What about companies, do they have to pay? Surely it would make more sen

  • They're working on a similar proposal here in Belgium. They are actually considering a "copyright" tax of 40 euros per computer!! The money won't even benefit society, but will go straight to SABAM (the RIAA/MPAA equivalent in Belgium) This is outrageous and comes down to simple theft.

    If this proposal becomes law, I will not buy a computer in Belgium anymore. I live close enough to the German and Dutch border so I'll just buy my equipment there.

    For those interested, more info can be found here: http://gee []
    • Think about it... if they charge you a "copyright tax" of 40 Euros per computer, then you can download stuff via p2p to your heart's content... I'd willingly pay a one off levy on purchase to tell the minions of the **AA to P off... and gladly make sure my receipt for this levy was kept very, very safe...

      I do believe that Canadians pay a levy per blank media item.

      For viewing a "television" stream over the Internet, then they can easily levy a duty on the broadband connection to cover the lost License Fees o

      • Re:Also in Belgium (Score:3, Informative)

        by Spacelord ( 27899 )
        Think about it... if they charge you a "copyright tax" of 40 Euros per computer, then you can download stuff via p2p to your heart's content... I'd willingly pay a one off levy on purchase to tell the minions of the **AA to P off... and gladly make sure my receipt for this levy was kept very, very safe...

        Ah but unfortunately it doesn't work that way. That would still be a copyright infringement and remain illegal under the current proposal. Think about it: if the 40 euro covered whatever copyright infring
  • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Friday March 04, 2005 @07:16AM (#11842799) Journal
    A blanket license on computers instead of TVs seems a bit silly.

    What they can do is this. Keep the TV license as it stands. However, if you want to watch BBC TV content on the Internet, you must log into the BBC website, providing your TV license details. This shows you have a TV license, and then you can go and watch BBC TV on the Internet.

    This means people with TVs only are paying and people with no TV but a computer and broadband get to support the BBC too if they are using BBC content. And people with both a TV and a computer don't end up paying twice since they supply their TV license details to the BBC website when creating their account.
  • BBC Radio (Score:4, Informative)

    by Richard_J_N ( 631241 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @07:34AM (#11842869)
    No one has yet mentioned the greatest jewel of the BBC: BBC radio. Whether you are considering Radio 4 (news), Radio 3 (culture), or the World Service (international), these are all funded as part of the TV license fee.

    Also, I think that it is important that the BBC (especially radio) remains free to access. Personally, I'd like to see the BBC adopt a model such as Mandrake use, i.e. people who like it pay, in order to keep it free for everyone to use.

  • Sweden (Score:3, Informative)

    by isecore ( 132059 ) <isecore.isecore@net> on Friday March 04, 2005 @07:48AM (#11842912) Homepage
    I'll forego the option of moderating this discussion to tell anyone interested that Sweden is contemplating a very similar change.

    The TV-license is going to transform into a "media license" and everyone with access to a computer, TV or other "media"-item is going to have to pay for the use of it.

    Personally I'm not a fan of TV-licensing, and this is even less titillating to me.
  • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Friday March 04, 2005 @07:50AM (#11842921) Homepage

    BBC starts from assumption that all PCs have software installed that makes it capable of displaying sound and video over the internet.

    that's a fuck right up from the word go.

    so let's assume that iWhacks, MAC OS/1, BeOS, FreeBSD, Atari ST500s and BBC Micros (the ones with the ARM processor) are all capable of viewing video and listening to sound, over the internet.

    great. so the BBC must first fund [patent-unencumbered!] free software development of video and sound compression and broadcasting technology, in order to guarantee that the technology is available across all platforms.

    that sounds good to me.

    so your computer _is_ capable, your OS _is_ capable, but you choose _not_ to install capable software: will the BBC force people to pay a license fee just because your PC is _capable_ of being used to view video, listen to sound, and be connected to the internet?

    mmm :)
  • by NoSuchGuy ( 308510 ) <do-not-harvest-m ...> on Friday March 04, 2005 @08:32AM (#11843073) Journal
    Why is there no tax on stupidity?
  • by Asprin ( 545477 ) <> on Friday March 04, 2005 @08:56AM (#11843165) Homepage Journal

    There's no reason why you hard-working UK citizens should have to put up with this crap. Unplug your telly/pc/whatever, drive it right on down to the Thames or whatever your nearest waterhole is and TOSS IT IN!

    Let "the man" in parliament know you ain't gonna pay no taxes what you ain't got been done voted fer yet. No more.

    Hey, it worked for us!

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Friday March 04, 2005 @11:33AM (#11844316)
    The annual taxes on my cable bill are about $48.
    The various taxes and mandatory "fees" on my various phone lines is $132 a year.
    This is about half what the Brits pay, but not insiginificant.

The human mind ordinarily operates at only ten percent of its capacity -- the rest is overhead for the operating system.