People will want to know: will the PSBC be a TV licence fee or an internet tax?

27 Aug 2013

Ireland’s Department of Communications has opened a public consultation into the new universal Public Service Broadcasting Charge (PSBC) that will replace the TV licence. A key issue to be addressed will be the level of evasion, which is currently understood to be at more than 270,000 people.

The consultation will run for six weeks from 26 August to 8 October.

The new charge is expected to replace the current €160 annual TV licence fee, beginning 1 January 2015.

Future Human

The difference being in this case is that every household will be expected to pay the charge regardless of whether they have a TV or not because of the shift among the public away from watching traditional TV to viewing content online.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, said public service broadcasting plays a critical role in Irish society, providing a common reference point for Ireland’s culture, language, history and heritage.

“Given the scale of TV licence evasion and the swiftly changing way we experience audio-visual content, it is important to ensure the continued health of public service broadcasting by placing it on a sound financial footing,” Rabbitte said.

“Replacing the current licensing system with the PSB charge will ensure an efficient and sustainable funding model for this public service into the future.”

As well as the new broadcasting charge, Rabbitte is also due put forth new legislation to revise governance arrangements for the amount of advertising both public and commercial broadcasters are allowed to broadcast.

The real battle and, I presume, purpose of this consultation is ultimately to communicate to the people why they will have to pay this charge.

The question many people in Ireland will likely be asking is whether this PSBC is a new charge aimed at backing a broadcasting sector which ought at this stage be better at supporting itself or whether it is a broad brush tax on people for going online.

There are so many questions that need to be asked. For example, what if you don’t even have an internet connection or a TV, are you liable to pay the charge because maybe, just maybe you might own a smartphone with a data plan? Or none of the above?

The consultation should be an interesting process and the Government would be wise to avoid the outcry that accompanies the debacle that was the unpopular property tax.

It’s good to note that the Department of Communications said that the basis of the consultation has been a Value for Money (VFM) Policy Review, which gave rise to a number of issues.

Because that’s it in a nutshell. The State will need to “communicate” to the people what exactly they will be paying for.

An earlier version of this article stated that the consultation would run for eight weeks, finishing on 7 October. The article has been amended to reflect an updated timeline.

Watching TV image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years