New TV licence rules could extend to tablet, laptop and PC users

27 Mar 2017

Image: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

The ongoing funding issues surrounding RTÉ may receive support from an unlikely source, with laptops, PCs and certain tablets the focus of the latest TV licence revision plans.

RTÉ’s financial woes are, suitably, playing out in the media, with land sales and calls for a doubling of the TV licence fee – though something else might be on the cards.

Soon after RTÉ director general Dee Forbes called for the €160 annual fee to be doubled, Denis Naughten, Minister for Communications, TD, quashed the idea.

Instead, it appears that he is working on broadening out the current rules, with laptops, PCs and some of the bigger tablets on the market being discussed.

According to the Irish Independent, the definition of a TV set is under review, and Naughten is aiming to bring the new generation of internet consumers into the fold.

The number of homes with no TVs fell 4,000 last year, according to An Post, the company that manages TV licence collection. It is thought that within these homes, consumption of entertainment over the internet has become the norm.

At the moment, devices that are non-portable and accessing content “by means of the publicly available internet” are OK, meaning that PCs are not applicable.

However, this is what Naughten is apparently looking to change.

“Sources said the key area for discussion would be the screen diameter, with the Department of Communications currently proposing all screens below 11in should not attract the fee,” reads the report.

This measurement excludes the vast majority of tablets and all smartphones, but certain iPads and android devices do stretch beyond 11in.

It’s unclear how any enforcement of such a licence would be achieved, especially considering how hard it is to prove a user has a large tablet, rather than just a smartphone, in their homes.

Standard TVs are often visible through living-room windows; many stationary PCs are, too. But laptops? Tablets? They would be incredibly difficult for licence inspectors to spot.

Additionally, the use of projectors in homes, operating off a smartphone connection, could again circumvent the latest licence attempts.

These would technically operate via a small screen, though internet content could be projected onto far larger walls than the 11in-screen limit under consideration.

Netflix is the obvious on-demand, mobile-friendly content provider for those with broadband contracts, but other services, such as All 4 and Sky’s upcoming variant, make for a quickly evolving market.

Meanwhile, YouTube continues to play host to endless hours of video, some of it broadcast through relatively traditional means.

So people in apartment blocks, for example, could have access to copious amounts of video content, as it is difficult to establish through what device they are consuming it.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic