Government considers plan to close TV licence online loophole

2 Dec 2016

Vintage TV set. Image: Tuzemka/Shutterstock

The Irish Government is once again looking to close the existing loophole that allows people to watch RTÉ programmes for free through non-TV devices, but is far from deciding how it wants to do it.

Despite Irish viewing habits showing that people are turning to their devices more and more to watch content from both home and abroad, the current Irish TV licence only takes into account RTÉ content watched through a TV set.

This has resulted in tenants and homeowners alike signing agreements with inspectors declaring they are not watching content through TVs, even though it is evident they are doing so through other means.

This has led to the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, TD, discussing the possibility that this loophole in the system could soon be closed, according to The Irish Times.

More specifically, Naughten has said that his department has “looked at what they are doing in the UK”, referencing the country’s government taking the decision to close a similar iPlayer loophole last September.

Much like Irish viewers are doing with the RTÉ Player, British viewers of BBC content will now be unable to avail of online BBC content without possession of a TV licence.

Possible accessing of customer data

However, in Ireland, Naughten has said that his department is currently looking into the legality of this method in Ireland.

The Government’s previous attempts to close the licence fee loophole proposed a blanket broadcasting fee that would include content accessed through devices other than a TV, but unanimous support for the motion could not be achieved in the Dáil.

In the meantime, Naughten has said that any enforcement would need to expand beyond the remit of An Post to a separate organisation.

However, another mooted strategy to tackle the problem of those avoiding licence fee payments would be to access data from those paying for TV subscriptions, to services like Sky or Virgin Media.

“There’s a number of options there that can improve the whole funding streams that are available, not just to RTÉ, but to TV3, UTV and TG4 as well,” Naughten said. “They can all benefit.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic