Everyone who lives in France or the DOM-TOM (overseas departments and territories) and pays what's called taxe d'habitation — local residence tax — must pay an annual tax on their television.
This tax, known as la redevance audiovisuelle in French, also applies to DVD and BlueRay players. It doesn't yet apply to computers equipped to capture TV signals.
But if you declare on your income tax form that you don't own a television, you are exempt.
La redevance audiovisuelle is following the curve of most taxes these days. In 2011 each taxable household will pay 123 euros (roughly 176 USD), a bump up from 121 euros in 2010, while those living in the DOM-TOM will pay 79 euros (113 dollars).
This TV Tax finances the public television and radio stations (France 2, 3, 4, Arte-France...). In Europe this isn't unusual. Germany, Austria, Ireland, the UK and several countries in northern Europe also have a similar tax. And it isn't new.
People in France have been paying this tax since 1933. But of course back then it only applied to radio sets.
The above chart, provided by the Wikipedia page here, shows just where the money from this tax went last year.
123 euros might sound like a lot of money to pay to support public radio and TV, but when you think about it, it's not for one channel or station, but more than 10.
It breaks down to only 34 euro cents a day, or less than 50 US cents. For comparison's sake, most coffee shops here won't sell a cup of jo for under 2 euros ($2.80). And as for a pack of cigarettes, you have to pay nearly 6 euros ($8.60) for a pack of 20. I know many people who go through at least that many in a single day.
But for 34 cents you can watch public TV and listen to public radio 24/7.
Why anyone would want to do that is another story.
But thanks to the TV tax, you can.