SCRATCHING AROUND FOR MONEY
I grew up in what was called "Single Channel Land." Most of the Republic of Ireland at the time could not receive any other television channel except our national broadcaster RTE. However, due to its geographical proximity to British transmitters, Dublin could avail of the BBC signals for nothing.
In those days, your Dad bought a television set, some guy installed an ariel in the attic or attached it to the chimney on the roof and you were in clover. I still remember those first grey flickering images as RTE news filled our sitting room. The total outlay for all of this were one off costs. By the time a company called Cork Multi-channel began offering its services in the early eighties we had two RTE television channels, the VCR revolution and a new tax called the TV license fee.
Multi-channel offered forty new TV stations at the flick of a switch and from memory, it cost about thirty quid a month back then. So you bought your TV, paid a guy to set up an aerial, registered to pay your TV license fee and signed up to for a monthly bill for the extra channels. Then there was the weekly rental costs for videos for your VCR. Almost suddenly the television was becoming a significant cost to the household. During all of that time though, the old reliable "wireless," still trundled on free-of-charge and omnipresent.
Of course, as with everything else in this country, there were ways around the costs. For example, most of the country just didn't pat the TV license fee. Roadside traders materialized with VCR machines for half nothing and VAT-free and many blokes recorded movies from TV and swapped them with friends. Then came the "Dodgy Boxes." These were replica receiver boxes that imitated much of the technology in the Multi-channel boxes that came with installation. The dodgy box was a one-off cost of £140.00 and my one lasted two and a half years before the Multi-channel boys changed all of the frequencies. Of course, being Ireland, a fix for that came soon afterwards with upgrades for the dodgy box at £30.00 and off you went again. Even SKY boxes here had a dodgy version.
The Interweb began to become a player towards the end of this period and all the while the Government was pulling its hair out at their lack of revenue from this cultural revolution called "viewing." Our national broadcaster was supposed to half funded by Government with the license fee and the other half was to be earned from advertising. Worse again, viewing figures were dropping off sharply as viewers looked at a variety of other channels or watched movies on their VCR's. The arguments showing the validity of the said license fee were paper thin so the Government got tough on fines for not having one. But even this was largely ignored. Then the Interweb really took off and the TV, which was once the centre of the family room, began to lose a lot of its appeal.
The mandarins of Kildare Street finally sat down and asked themselves, "How the fuck can we extort money from people for nothing in these changing times?" The bastard-child of that set of meetings became a proposal for a "Broadcasting Charge." When I discovered what it was I thought they should have more correctly named it the "Receiver Charge," because the broadcaster or provider were not the targets of the proposed tax. Now I have been paying the original TV license fee for years so I had no great objection, until I examined what was being taxed under the wrongly named, "Broadcasting Charge."
The all-new Broadcasting Charge included in its fee your internet access. It was meant to catch people who had dumped the telly and got all their flickering images on an iPad or PC. I don't know how it works where you are but here's how it works over here. A PC or iPad are about ten to fifteen per cent more expensive to buy in Ireland. With each purchase you pay 23 per cent value added tax, (VAT), to the Government. Of course these things use electricity and your monthly bill for that is also subject to 23 per cent VAT. Then you must sign up with a service provider and guess what? Yep! More VAT on those regular bills too. In Ireland we have some of the highest costs in Europe for this service. The irony in all of this is the actual content providers on the WEB are giving it to us for free. Indeed, the whole idea of the internet is freedom of access. Our Government too has availed of the internet in a big way and all Departments have a weighty presence there. In fact today, most interactions the citizen has with Government is purposely channeled through the internet for its convenience. It has quickly become clear therefore that each citizen must have an internet connection and the same Government are getting a huge tax dividend from the trend.
That is why I utterly deplored this proposed Broadcasting Charge to tax its usage. I made submissions to the panel set up to examine it and wrote letters to the press also. So I am somewhat vindicated this morning to read that, "Communications Minister Denis Naughten has confirmed that the proposed broadcasting charge will not be introduced."
The announcement does bemoan the lawless citizens who just won't pay the license fee no matter what the threats. "Mr Naughten, speaking at the Oireachtas Communications Committee said evasion of the TV license costs the taxpayer about €40m a year. Then, "Speaking at the committee, the Roscommon-based minister said the proposed broadcasting charge should not be shelved completely. He said that tackling “large-scale” TV license evasion is a short-term way of bringing more money into the broadcast sector. He said he does not think there is anywhere else in Europe that has the levels of evasion we have here. “It is three-times higher than those experienced in the UK and in Germany. It is estimated that it could be anywhere up to €40m per annum,” he added.
Don't cha love it? The lawless paddies ignoring demands for money for nothing. Minister Naughten does not provide a shred of content to the internet. Neither do any of the other over-paid dossers in Dail Eireann. But they get a shed-load of VAT from it as it currently exists so they haven't a leg to stand on charging us even more for what they expect to have anyway. The broadcast charge was simply an abuse of power and would have been another bad law on the books if they'd got away with it. They really are scratching around for money from anywhere.