TV licence fee overhaul: What will it mean for you?

Q&A: It’s hard to see the ‘device independent broadcasting charge’ being anything other than a household fee

What will the device-independent broadcasting charge look like?  Minister for Communications Richard Bruton says the details haven’t been worked out yet.

What will the device-independent broadcasting charge look like? Minister for Communications Richard Bruton says the details haven’t been worked out yet.

 

I don’t have a television set. I only watch TV online through Netflix or maybe the RTÉ Player. I’m not currently eligible to pay the licence fee. What does this announcement mean for me?

Nothing for at least five years - probably more - so sit back and relax. The only thing that’s happening this year is that the Government will put the collection of the existing TV licence fee out to tender. After the winning company’s first five-year contract, it has been agreed that the licence fee will be replaced by a “device independent broadcasting charge” that reflects the fact that lots of people don’t have TV sets anymore.

Why change the old system?

Under a “device independent” charge, the 10 per cent of households estimated to access content on devices other than a TV set will be obliged to make a contribution to public service broadcasting - possibly a similar sum to the current €160 licence fee.

So if I have a smartphone, tablet or laptop but no TV, will I have to pay up?

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton says the details haven’t been worked out yet.

How would the Government, or whichever company is monitoring compliance, know who owns what device?

It’s hard to see how a device-based charge could be enforced, which suggests that the Government might eventually revert to its old idea of a household-based charge. This was mooted seven years ago by former minister Pat Rabbitte and then abandoned on the basis it would be wildly unpopular with the electorate.

Is a household-based media charge inevitable?

If future governments want to keep Irish audio-visual production alive, then yes.

What’s all this about a tender? Doesn’t An Post collect the licence fee?

Yes, but the evasion rate is high compared to other countries. It ran at 12.8 per cent in 2018, down from 14.1 per cent in 2017, but that still means millions that could go into Irish radio and television are lost to non-compliance.

UK licence fee collector Capita might tender, as might payments company Payzone and IT company Abtran. But An Post will be firmly in the mix too. Indeed, there may be political pressure on the Government to keep the business with An Post.

If the outcome of the process is that An Post wins the contract, why bother having it at all?

The tender process allows the Government to formalise the collection under a long-term contract, giving the bidder “an incentive to invest” in the system, which An Post says is what it has always wanted. The Minister suggests this will help it crack down on evasion, were An Post to be the successful bidder.

I have a television set but I am currently evading the television licence fee? What does this news mean for me?

If the Government is correct and the tender leads to higher compliance, then the options are to pay up or sweat the consequences a little bit more.

Consequences?

A court appearance and a fine, as is currently possible. The Minister wouldn’t be drawn on whether the new contractor might send debt collection agents out knocking on doors.

I pay the television licence fee now. Will I get more bang for my buck if there’s less evasion and more money for Irish broadcasting?

Maybe. But there are a lot of calls on any extra money that might be generated by a more efficient system. Some of it will go to the running of the broadcasting regulator, so that smaller broadcasters can pay a reduced levy, rather than directly to fund content.

Will the cost of a television licence fee go up in the meantime?

There’s no sign of any political willingness to increase the €160 fee, despite high rates of inflation in the television industry. The last increase was in 2008, when it went up by €2. A small rise is possible in a future budget, but the Government doesn’t seem too keen on it.

What’s not in the Government’s announcement?

International companies - from cable and satellite operators like Sky and Virgin to US online streamers like Netflix - make hundreds of millions in revenues in the Irish market. British broadcasters are also heavily active in the advertising market here. There is no measure to seek statutory contributions from any of these companies to pay for Irish content.

I see the BBC is to start making most over-75s in the UK pay the TV licence fee to boost funding. Does the Government have any plans to make currently exempt over-65s pay the fee or its replacement?

The Minister says no.

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