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Ireland on the verge of extending TV licence to cover Internet — UPDATED

07 May 2009 | 20.21 Europe/London
Ireland's draft Broadcasting Bill includes a provision to extend TV licence fee payments to cover Internet access - and it's soon set to become law. Even devices capable of picking up YouTube appear to be included in the Broadcasting Act 2009's definition of "television:"
"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."

Following a query, a spokesperson for the Department of Communications, Energy and Nat Resources in Dublin, clarified the Broadcasting Bill. The full update is below.

The move will mean more cash in the coffers of Irish state broadcaster RTE, which is about to publish its annual accounts. It's expected there'll be little change from its most recent financial update last October, where the broadcaster forecast its advertising revenue would fall €25m short of budget for the year. However, following a cost-cutting drive it's believed the station might break even.

At the moment you don't need a television licence to watch online video content in the UK (except when a programme is being simulcast on both TV and the web) - but that could change. Last month the BBC Internet Blog said that if, in the future, "some people stopped receiving live broadcasts at all, stopped paying their licence fee, but continued to consume television programmes, solely on-demand" then they would consider having the Government extend its TV licence fee to cover Internet access too.

RTE's not the only media company hoping to cash in by monetising web content currently available for free: News Corporation's could be about to charge us to access its newspaper websites. Its owner Rupert Murdoch says "the current days of the Internet will soon be over;" if he has his way, the online manifestations of The Times and The Sun could go subscription-only within the twelve months. He's encouraged by News Corp's success in doing the same with The Wall Street Journal. Like RTE, News Corporation's newspaper division barely broke even last year.

UPDATE: A reader emailed us to say that she'd contacted the government department in question in order to clarify the situation and this is the response she got. "Devices capable of displaying traditional television broadcasting services" need a TV licence. Any device that plays either YouTube or the RTE player (similar to the Beeb's iPlayer), or anything from RTE or TV3's online archives is exempt — which must mean mobile devices and PCs.

It is, however, the next para of the explanation, from the Broadcasting Policy Division at the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, that is confusing.
However, given fast moving nature of technology in this area, the Bill specifically empowers the Minister to exempt categories of devices which may fall into the broad definition of a “television set” from the television licence requirement.

Wouldn't the "fast-moving nature of technology", mean that the government would reserve the right to levy the licence fee on other devices if it thought that more people were moving away from their common-or-garden telly and towards the brave new world of Internet TV?

The final two paras of the statement clear up the matter. "As previously indicated, the Minister intends on enactment of the Bill to move to exempt mobile devices and devices capable of accessing services that fall with the definition of a linear “television” service available through websites, from the television licensing requirement. Therefore, the new legislation will result in the exclusion of a standard PC with a broadband connection from the television licensing requirement."

So, that's a no, then. Thanks, Mary!

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