Broadcast charge

Minister for something, Pat Rabbitte, is trying to instigate a charge on every household in Ireland. He gave two reasons for this in an interview today: there’s a lot of evasion of the TV licence fee, and there’s a seemingly unfair situation currently where hotels pay a single licence fee that covers all the TVs in all the rooms whereas a cluster of separate holiday cottages, say, will have to pay separate licences.

The proposed charge is to be levied on every household, regardless of TV ownership, on the assumption that people access content via their phones or tablets or laptops. Mr Rabbitte doesn’t believe that anyone doesn’t access some kind of content through some kind of device (or, as he put it, he doesn’t think we have cavemen in this country

Jen and I actually don’t have a TV, as I’ve smilingly told licence inspectors in each place we’ve lived in our (as of today!) eight years of marriage. This televisionlessness was mainly an ideological choice. We watched DVDs on the computer, trying one of those delivery services for a while. We quickly discovered box sets and watched ‘A Touch Of Frost’, ‘Alias’, ‘Scrubs’, ‘Lost’, ‘The Wire’, ‘House’, and lots of others. We dabbled guiltily with downloading bad-quality episodes of shows from nefarious sites, and just got a subscription to Netflix there a few months ago when Arrested Development was released. (Maybe someday we’ll get around to watching all of that…) Our current vibe is ‘Lie To Me’, starring the splendid Tim Roth.

It seems to me that the Internet has changed the landscape utterly in this regard in the short space of time it’s been around. I think that what’s needed is a comprehensive survey of how people access content and how people should pay for that access. (The question of ‘if’ people should pay the Irish government to access content that does not originate here will probably not get a hearing…) We already pay VAT on the broadband services we subscribe to and the devices we watch/listen to content on. The TV licence was a tax on owning a television set and, since they were the only show in town, paid for the national broadcaster, RTÉ. I hardly ever watch or listen to RTÉ. If my content usage had a nutritional information label, RTÉ would be listed as ‘trace’. As I understand it, it’s now impossible to watch RTÉ without a subscription service like Sky, anyway?

Survey every household. “Do you have a TV? More than one? How many? How often is each one used? Do you have access to the internet at home?” Even as I write this, I realise that people aren’t going to want to give information like that to the government, though, are they? The government is making big assumptions about how people access content and if they want to bring in a universal household tax like this, they should be able to present those households with a very clear set of logical reasons for the change.

The hotel room thing is a red herring. The evasion thing is an uninformed assumption. I am just not convinced they know what they’re doing. Join the queue, says you…

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