Government says no TV licence needed for RTE online

19 May 2009

The Broadcasting Bill 2009 specifically exempts mobile phones, “standard PCs with a broadband connection and laptops with TV cards” from a television licence requirement, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan TD, has said.

What this means is that anyone in Ireland watching streamed or downloadable video content, be it from a service such as YouTube or the RTE Player – which has shows such as EastEnders and Grey’s Anatomy available for viewing after broadcast – will not have to hold any form of TV licence.

It may seem strange that RTE would allow online viewers to enjoy much of the same content without paying for a TV licence, but perhaps there would be considerable difficulty in asking computer owners who pay a broadband fee to also pay for a TV licence for online content that they may or may not ever access. If you think about it, a TV set has one purpose, whereas a PC with broadband connectivity has multiple uses.

Would it really be possible to ask all Irish people with internet access and a computer to pay a television licence, just in case they watch TV online? Would it be possible to ask payment for a TV licence when YouTube content, for example, has nothing to do with the Irish State, RTE or traditional broadcasting?

Interestingly, the Broadcasting Bill 2009 also exempts “laptops with TV cards” from payment of a TV licence, meaning that while the owner of a TV set will have to cough up the €160 for a licence, a laptop owner can tune in the exact same channels on their TV card, put AV out to a large monitor, and thereby neatly (and legally) sidestep payment.

Section 140 of the Bill defines a television set as: “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.”

This seems to suggest any laptop, netbook, mobile phone or computer capable of receiving and showing “television broadcasting services” is a TV set, but when is a broadcast service not a broadcast? When it’s a webcast?

Broadcast is generally defined as ‘one to many’ or something received simultaneously by the general public, whereas a webcast is not so linear. For example, YouTube does not broadcast one station with linear programming; at any one time, one, none or many videos may be viewed by one, none or many individuals.

At any rate, this is what Minister Ryan had to say on the issue: “Once the Broadcasting Bill is enacted, I will exempt these types of technology in order to encourage such industries and to allow for technological development.”

So those youtubing from their iPhone or watching RTE Player from their laptops have been given the all-clear when it comes to holding a TV licence, although it wasn’t very clear to begin with.

By Marie Boran