Would You Pay an Ongoing ‘Entertainment’ Tax to use Your Mobile Device?

An Irish Government minister has recently announced that every home in the country will have to pay a TV license fee regardless of whether they have a TV or not. He is quoted as saying;

“In short, everyone benefits from the availability of these services, regardless of how content is accessed or relayed to the public and, therefore, it is my view that the cost should be borne by society as a whole.”

There are two implied premises to his argument: The first is, that people are watching more programming on their mobile devices or computers to the extent that the relationship between broadcaster and viewer has changed in some fundamental way.

Second, that watching television is not only beneficial in itself but is of benefit to society as a whole.

Dealing with the second point first. For the most part Television isn’t even a benefit to the immediate viewer let alone the public at large.

In particular, no child should be left unattended watching television. Once they are away from “Thomas the Tank Engine” and highly specific programmes of a kind especially produced to aid child development, television is nothing but an outright danger. Indiscriminate viewing does them nothing but harm.

Television is also a major health hazard to those old enough to know where the off button is. It is a clearly identifiable contributor to the obesity epidemic which in turn is the leading cause of heart failure and diabetes in the western world. Never mind a whole host of other nasty side effects.

The far more interesting assertion to discuss is the notion that content is being viewed on mobile devices and computers rather than a conventional TV set.

The evidence from the Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012–2017 white paper would suggest that the Minister’s assertions may have some basis. (The executive summary is well-worth reading.)

Relevant to this discussion are two findings from the Cisco research:

1.) Smartphones represented only 18 percent of total global handsets in use in 2012, but represented 92 percent of total global handset traffic. In 2012, the typical smartphone generated 50 times more mobile data traffic (342 MB per month) than the typical basic-feature cell phone (which generated only 6.8 MB per month of mobile data traffic).

2.) Two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017. Mobile video will increase 16-fold between 2012 and 2017, accounting for over 66 percent of total mobile data traffic by the end of the forecast period.

<img src="https://technologyvoice.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/mobile-usage.png" align="left" vspace="10" hspace="10"The most recent figures from TV Licensing in the UK show that 39% of homes watched TV content on a smartphone while another 14% used a tablet.

However, while there is a certain handiness in being able to view content on mobiles, computers, etc. it is hard to believe that it as remotely a satisfactory an experience as watching content on a proper screen accompanied by proper sound.

Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you have to or that you will.

Not to be a complete killjoy, I do think the world would be a sorrier place without programmes such as; The Wire, Breaking Bad, BSG, Firefly and so on. The rest, however, is junk.

So why this move? As is usual, one has to follow the money. Television is a ubiquitous service and most households in Ireland have a viewing set for which they already pay a TV license. So the additional money raised from properties that don’t have televisions will be trivial in comparison to the amount that is already being raised.

Technically, it is not a poll tax but it is in effect a tax on just living in a house which all of us need to do. It contains within it the pernicious idea that we now have to pay a tax to the government for no other reason then that we happen to exist. This has nothing to do with income or property rights.

More pernicious still for those of us who actually enjoy and benefit from technology is the identification (if only by approximation at this point) of everyday gadgetry such as mobile phones, tablets and personal computers as being liable for periodic taxation as opposed to taxes paid at the point of sale.

The dubious and unsupported argument for such an imposition is based on the idea that these devices can carry so-called entertainment from publicly funded broadcasters and are the practical objects for conveying the wider benefit that the minister refers to. (It is equally likely that he could have been referring to some sort of magical thinking that conveyed this benefit – hard to know with politicians.)

However, with the sort of figures being talked about in the Cisco report it is going to be hard for any government to turn away from such a potentially abundant source of income. It is just a matter of them figuring out precisely how.

17 thoughts on “Would You Pay an Ongoing ‘Entertainment’ Tax to use Your Mobile Device?

  1. Can’t agree that there is no benefit at all to television. Sure if overused it’s harmful, but isn’t anything in excess bad? Would you be happy if there was no televised news in this country, or no political discussion or investigative programs such as Prime Time? That’s before you even mention the entertainment value. I think Ireland would be a poorer place without this service and the only way to have it is to pay taxes. The tax isn’t on the devices rather the content. Even if you don’t watch, listen to or read RTE content directly, I find it very hard to believe people aren’t reading content first broken on RTE.


  2. As the article mentions there are certain good things on television. There just isn’t anything like enough of it to force a blanket charge on either people’s homes or on the devices they use. There is no inherent superiority by virtue of a broadcaster being funded publicly that justifies the imposition of these sort of taxes by the back door. I understand that without government support, the high capital costs of setting up a broadcast service were unlikely to come from the private sector in a country with a small population, and the money had to come from somewhere.If you can find evidence for the greater benefit argument I would be interested to read it but all the research I have come across (and personal observation) points in the opposite direction.On the matter of content. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of what constitutes quality in a news service. For most people, unfortunately, it comes down prejudices and biases being reinforced. But speaking as someone who spent 28 years in hard news and current affairs I have very little regard for what passes as broadcast journalism over here. Certainly not to the point that I would wish enforced taxation on the use of my personal devices or anybody else’s.(Actually, this reminds me to keep a diary of the more egregious examples of broadcast journalism for a future article on why social media triumphs both in the area of timeliness and sourcing. Maybe after shortly after St. Patrick’s Day.)


  3. I find this proposition quite idiotic and offending. 1. Devices come at a cost already (including VAT anyone?)2. We subsidise RTE already with state funding3. Who says I want to watch mediocre programmes and bias news anyways??4. They should be grateful that we do fund them and watch them as otherwise they would not exist!


  4. Sorry, you think people in Ireland who have access to the world wide web are relying on RTE for breaking news?Such a bizarre thought imho!


  5. If it walks, flies, quacks like a duck , it is a duck. This is just another household charge. Well done Labour, we will see you to the exit at the next election.


  6. Personally I have a major issue with the TV licence because it goes to support a broadcaster I neither watch or believe is being run efficiently.Slightly off topic but I’d actually like to see part of the licence go to support the independent TV programmers and the Irish filmmaking industry.I could see a situation where the TV licence could be converted into a general broadcast (transmission?) licence (covering TV, Radio and Internet traffic).I think however that such a charge raises serious issues in terms of who should benefit from the tax take? No doubt this is another cynical attempt to take in more tax with the analogy that if you can afford a mobile device you can afford to pay.However as the content and services accessed are in the majority provided by offshore providers then why should the Irish Government pocket the change?I’d actually have no problem paying a token €20 “on-line” tax if I thought the money would be used to support initatives such as the Codo Dojo, Whizzkids Summer Camps or ScoilNet.


  7. If RTE isn’t funded sufficiently, then it will join stations like those in the US that cater for the ‘market’ which means the lowest common denominator and endless biased reporting. The Government are right to review the impact of new technology on the TV License model – but I would like to see some serious research into what is the most effective and fair way to collect revenues for the services the state provides through the National Broadcaster.


  8. At the risk of sounding like an Irish tax payer and suggest that this is wrong or illegal, its not the tax that I object to but the purpose of it. RTE use it to fund their agenda and their agenda is not mine.Social Engineering, Indoctrination and state controlled media have a fine line with supporting a “cultural agenda.” RTE is a very, very expensive way to do that, and why they are also our national concert orchestra etc etc is just bizarre.We expect the state to do and control so much. We’re the opposite of the USA and we’re really much more like Moscow. A nursing home help charity recently highlighted the cost of a years nursing assistance is €15k while the HSE has costed the same service at €125k, while the poor nurses earns less than €30k. Its bizarre.The Irish Government and its communist-era civil service cannot run projects or commercial institutions. We need the government to do less, to interfere less.Why do we have ads warning people about cooking on fire? We only started to develop electricity in the 1920s – how did we survive for 2,000/5,000 years? 2 million years? Was it the FSA or the HSE that kept us going?As for our traditional media – you won’t like this but I’ll state the truth just for posterity: People want news, information and data. The rise of the ego journalist / presenter / personality is a self-inflated bubble: We don’t care that much about your opinions. You’re not thought leaders. You’re not reforming our country. You’ll sell yourselves to the highest bidder and lack integrity.Truth hurts but its important to recognise it all the same 🙂


  9. This caught my attention because I don’t have a TV, my husband and I decided 7 years ago that our life (and brains) were happy enough without it. I don’t care if others want to watch TV, but TV addicts get breathlessly indignant about our choice…”What about the educational channels? (whine) Why just last week I learned how fisherman in Borneo repair their boats using a paint made of seaweed and coconut husks! And the children…well, they NEED the TV…”We read magazines, listen to the radio, go to public lectures and talk to real people. Whew — thanks for reading my rant! ;-))So far France is not charging us a TV license fee. Every 6 months an overly serious man comes to our home and inspects it to see if we have a hidden TV. I will watch with interest to see what happens in Ireland with this legislation.


  10. “Dealing with the second point first. For the most part Television isn’t even a benefit to the immediate viewer let alone the public at large.In particular, no child should be left unattended watching television. Once they are away from “Thomas the Tank Engine” and highly specific programmes of a kind especially produced to aid child development, television is nothing but an outright danger. Indiscriminate viewing does them nothing but harm.Television is also a major health hazard to those old enough to know where the off button is. It is a clearly identifiable contributor to the obesity epidemic which in turn is the leading cause of heart failure and diabetes in the western world. Never mind a whole host of other nasty side effects.”This point is wrong in relation to what the minister actually said. He never said that television is good for you (a person) he said (or along the lines of) that television is good to society in the sense that RTE is a public service broadcaster and most people [in Ireland, and beyond I suppose] benefit from this.RTE (while I personally don’t watch it that much) has a role to play and this kind of spin on the issue of a tax is unhelpful at best. I’d imagine (although without stats) that most people in Ireland view some sort of RTE service (news reader app, RTE Player, dramas, YouTube clips of Aengus Mac Grianna applying his make up, a presidential or party political debate, or indeed children’s television) regularly so changing the TV licence fee to an overarching fee that includes access to these services from a range of devices makes sense.Personally, I’ve never had an issue with the licence fee. It’s a service, I use it – I didn’t use it for a long time so I didn’t pay the fee, this was also before I had internet or smart phone in my house. I do think that today, short of living in a yurt with no power supply, you’d be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t use RTE in some way, shape or form.


  11. You make some fair points Tom, RTE isn’t the world’s greatest example of quality broadcast journalism, but on the whole I think we’re better off with it than without it. If we didn’t have a TV license or this new tax the standard of programmes would suffer hugely. I do think that the revenues should be shared out more equally among competing stations however. I think it makes sense to bring in the new tax as it is already becoming difficult to differentiate between a television and a computer. There will be opposition from those you claim they don’t watch listen to or read RTE but I think realistically this is a very small proportion of the population.


  12. With the dramatic change in how we use TV, Radio and the Internet for news and entertainment, a media licence probably makes sense. How it is then used is more pressing issue because, if it is just handed over to RTE, it will just disappear into the black hole of their inefficiencies.RTE seem to operate as if there is a bottomless pit of money available to them. I was watching the 6:00pm news program recently and realised that there were a lot of people involved. (Including a couple of reporters on jollies in Spain and Italy) I decided to check it the following day and wrote down the number of reporters involved in each news itemThere were eighteen (18) reporters involved, each Item had two external reporters, all of them on location in either Ireland or Europe, (Rome, Brussels, Northern Ireland). All of them accompanied by a camera and sound crewThis did not include the Studio people and the technology in use there.Brian Dobson joined Tony Connolly on Rome the following evening. I will assume that that plane fare was not booked too far in advance and that he was not staying in the local Ibis HotelAll this for a 45 minute programmeI will assume that all of these reporters are being paid full time and would not be on anything close to a standard industrial wage.The information imparted was no better than that provided by TV3, same stories…………Looks like a bottomless money pit to me


  13. Maybe instead of a television licence. But the Internet or the world wide web was designed or originated with the concept that it was free. You paid for the connection.


  14. Maybe same logic should be applied to road tax… Roads are there for everyone and we all benefit from them, why pick on car owners….


  15. I think it’s time the Irish public got up and said enough is enough!! Soon the Irish government will be taxing the tax and all to pay for the mistakes of others. We will end up buying a product + vat + Nama tax. But no we will most likely sit back, say nothing and just let it happen. Then we will end up watching Tonight with Vincent Browne and the boys from the Dail crying and arguing on the box for another hour of boring TV viewing over what the government plans to do or have done without our consent. All my TV viewing comes from Sky, which I’m sure are already paying RTE for airing their channels. The licence fee, I pay every year and now they want everyone to pay another tax on top of the Broad Band fees we pay our providers which there is already Vat added. I say let the politicians come to the door collecting the payment for this fee and let us get our moneys worth! I can only assume those who agree with all these new taxes don’t care as they have the income to afford to pay, well I would be more than happy for you guys to pay mine also if that’s the case. We are loosing our Democratic Right & will soon be living in a Communist Country. Wake up guys!


  16. I wouldn’t pay any tax for my mobile device nor would I pay for any of the electrical devises I own other than my TV license, which I still don’t understand why. In the UK they are also looking at putting tax on for the sell of electronic cigarette.


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