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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


  1. My reading is that only computers with a TV card can be taxed, as YouTube or the RTE Player may not constitute a “broadcast”.

  2. Eoin, the text does not mention a TV card.

    however, here, it says that you do not need a license for a computer /unless/ it can receive “signals” : http://www.citizensinformation.ie/categories/consumer-affairs/media/tv_licences – no mention of whether that means electrical or radio signals.

    scary times ahead. pretty ridiculous if anyone tries to enforce it, especially on a laptop – do you require the license to be owned by the house you live in, or the work-place where you spend most of your time?

  3. Mark,
    Its good to have a campaign to get clarity and ultimately prevent this happening. But, right now, I very much doubt that it is planned to licence the viewing of video online.

  4. citizensinformation.ie lists the currently commenced legislation; this post is about the proposed amendment to the legislation. It’s at report stage in the Seanad which means it’s quite close to being passed, but it wouldn’t be on citizensinformation.ie until it’s passed and commenced by the Minister.

    Eoin, if I see the Minister signing an order as part of an SI exempting computers from this, I’ll believe that he’s serious about not intending to licence the viewing of video online; but given the past track record of our government when it comes to this sort of thing (technology, broadband, drafting good legislation, take your pick…) I think I’m justified in waiting to see proof first. On the firearms end, we’ve seen some truly daft stuff over the years that makes me think there aren’t any qualified people to draft legislation sensibly in Dail Eireann; on the technology end, all you have to say is the phrase “e-voting”; and on the broadband end, well. You don’t really need to say anything at all there, do you?!

  5. Mark,

    You’re flat out wrong here.

    From the bill in question:
    “broadcasting service” means a service which comprises a compi-
    lation of programme material of any description and which is trans-
    mitted, relayed or distributed by means of an electronic communi-
    cations network, directly or indirectly for simultaneous or near- 20
    simultaneous reception by the general public, whether that material
    is actually received or not, and where the programmes are provided
    in a pre-scheduled and linear order, but does not include:
    (a) a service provided for viewing in a non-linear manner
    where each viewer chooses a programme from a cata- 25
    logue of programmes, or
    (b) other audio and audiovisual services provided by way of
    the Internet;

    Youtube is not for “simultaneous reception by the general public”, and therefore comes under section (b). You would have to pay if you put a TV tuner into your PC though – which is fair enough.

    Frank B.

  6. Caroline Lillington the independent journalist, (IT software, broadband rights expert) and longtime champion of internet privacy & (anti big brother) db rights managment is now a Director of the RTE Authority.

    I would like to hear her speak out on the use of 3rd party databases to spy on people in order to generate revenue for a broadcasting authority with a clear political agenda…

    This bit you can take or leave but it is an opinion on the independence of the bradcast and its ability to generate impartially in this debate…

    (namely keeping the incumbent government (it’s paymaster), the unions and the public service in the manner to which their accustomed).

    RTE is a classic example of an Irish Public Service…
    A broadcasting service run by its employees for its employees and acolytes and not for the consumer or the customer….

    Anyone remember its finest hour sending an acolyte turkey in a trolley to the eurovision…oh how the germans laughed!

  7. @Frank B

    The fact that YouTube comes under part (b) of the bill that you quoted, does not preclude broadband from being able to permit people to view live broadcasts over the internet. The problem word here is “other”. i.e. if you have a device that can only access youtube, then you are not liable, however a device that has general internet connectivity is clearly capable of receiving broadcasts made “directly or indirectly for simultaneous or near-simultaneous reception by the general public”.

  8. Just as a note, PCs/Laptops are taxed as TVs in Germany, and worse, several court decisions have uphold it even for pure business PCs.


  9. As pointed out in the boards.ie thread, the Minister disagrees :

    The RTE Player is not an Internet Service in that it is a Timeshift service derived from a programme that was Broadcast . That is the opinion the minister has.

  10. A TV tax? What on God’s green earth is happening over there? How about an air tax, or a tax to urinate, or a tax for the capability to see colors? What’s that you say? Just glanced at an advert on the bus? That’ll be 20 euros a year. Tune into our government channel, where we will wax poetically how we are serving you good people effectively and efficiently. Oh, and pay us for the privilege of hearing us talk about how great we are doing. My advise would be to get a proxy in another country, even if you have to pay, and reject this ridiculous policy.

  11. I wish the proxy idea would work, but this is a per-premises thing, meaning that having the equipment in your house is why you’d need the licence. (That also means that you’d need a seperate licence for your car, your office, or anywhere else you go with your iPhone/laptop/netbook/etc).

  12. Thanks for highlighted this issue Mark!

    @Andreas: reading the comments on Slashdot today about this, it appears that similar legislation is already in place in Denmark and Switzerland too. Perhaps this will become the norm in Europe over time?

  13. Dave, I’ve tried watching it on ubuntu and kubuntu and debian, via firefox and via epiphany, on 32 and 64 bit platforms (the latter both in 32 and 64bit modes) and I’ve yet to see it work.

    And yes, there’s a little bit more than news, but only homegrown stuff (they don’t have the rights to stream bought-in stuff IIRC).

  14. @Mark…http://www.rte.ie/player/#s=latest – check the “Most Popular” section…Desperate Housewives/EastEnders/Greys/Home&Away etc, all there.

    Works fine on Ubuntu-9.04×86 + epiphany-browser Note: I’m using the flashplugin-nonfree pkg, which has flash v10.

  15. Haven’t tried v10 yet dave but will later on (I tend to prefer stable s/w and last I looked v10 was in beta).
    Interesting point about the most popular section, I hadn’t looked at that before.

  16. I talked to a friend in the Labour party today and he says the provision is intended to be activated at a later date, so at some point in the future when no one is buying a TV anymore/ all TV is streamed over the internet, there will already be legislation in place to extend the license to computers.

    On some level I agree that TV has to be paid for some way (otherwise we end up with US television which is 10 times worse), but the wording still makes me nervous.

  17. So you’re saying that Labour thinks Fianna Fail are future-proofing what was originally a licence to use a natural resource by turning it into a tax on a privately-provided service on private resources on which there is no rational claim for taxation for the state, despite the conflict with stated broadband provision policy and the importance of the internet and the businesses surrounding it to our economy? I wonder if either party would make a public statement on that…

  18. I’d hope so Eoin, but I got the same email as Aidan did, and I don’t concur with his reading of it.
    And since we don’t have Ministerial Infalliability in Ireland yet…

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