May 09

New Irish Internet Tax?

The more you look at legislation in this country, the nastier an opinion you develop about it. You’d be able to forgive minor errors, small awkwardnesses, even larger problems so long as the common good was served, but the more I look at statute law in Ireland and more critically, at how it is drafted, the less charitable I feel about the drafters. Much of the stuff I see, I see through the Firearms Acts – that stuff I talk about elsewhere.

This time, though, it’s more apropos to here. The new Broadcasting Bill 2009, currently on it’s last stages in the Oireachtas and about to become the Broadcasting Act 2009, has a lovely little sting in it.

In section 140 (the definitions), it defines “television set” to mean:

any electronic apparatus capable of receiving and exhibiting television broadcasting services broadcast for general reception (whether or not its use for that purpose is dependent on the use of anything else in conjunction with it) and any software or assembly comprising such apparatus and other apparatus;

Nice little bit there. What it basicly means is that if you have no TV and you watch Youtube over your broadband connection (or download video footage and watch that), then you need to have a TV licence.

Yeah, that’s a bit of a surprise, isn’t it? We’ve the worst broadband rollout in the EU, in a nation where we prided ourselves on being the gateway to the EU for IT companies, where we have fancy plans for rolling out high-speed broadband to every sheep farmer in Mayo (and wireless broadband for their iPhones while they’re out with the sheep); and now we’re charging a 160 euro tax for those who opt to have broadband installed.

You wouldn’t mind if there was some ethical claim they could use to justify the tax. Maybe, like the TV licence, we’re using what is, notionally at least, a national resource (like the electromagnetic spectrum, or the airways, or the roads or whatever). Except that we’re sourcing our broadband from private companies over private telecomms nets (the national infrastructure was sold off to private investors during Eircom’s IPO). So there’s no national resource in use.

Maybe we need the RTE site to get content? Except that, well, RTE doesn’t broadcast anything other than news on their site and even that won’t work for Ubuntu or Debian linux thanks to dodgy flash players. Plus, opting out of RTE isn’t possible as it’s pushed out there and the claim then is that if you can receive it (which I could – I just have to reinstall a different proprietary OS on my machine for a few hundred euro) then you have to pay the licence fee.

And what about the rise of mobile broadband? You can watch youtube on your iPhone, so now you need an iLicence as well? Legally you would.

So the medium isn’t a natural resource, its provision is done purely as a private business affair, and there’s no provision of content involved. So how in the name of little blue apples does Eamon Ryan think that he has some sort of claim or right to charge a tax for this? It’s ridiculous!

Methinks someone’s forgotten the last time that the Government did something stupid about technology and the e-voting debacle that ensued when the IT community pointed out that the people involved didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. And this one is aimed at people’s pockets, and the pockets of businesses. Hard to see this not causing a problem down the line.

www.IrishInternetTax.com may get interesting soon enough…

More details and discussion here on boards.ie and here on politics.ie