Saorview, the State-funded digital television service, has told the Oireachtas it will cost more than €500,000 to broadcast Dáil and Seanad debates on a dedicated TV channel.
At present UPC and Eircom transmit the Oireachtas TV channel free of charge. Sky charges a "discounted" fee of €250,000.
Saorview, which is operated by RTÉ subsidiary 2RN, told the Oireachtas recently that it would like to add the channel to its free-to-air platform.
However, it said, unlike pay-TV operators, Saorview could not discriminate in charging for the carriage of channels on its network.
Under legislation, it said, the services operate under a regulated tariff model which is independently regulated.
Saorview conducted a trial broadcast of the channel last September and estimated the carriage costs would be in the region of €525,000.
It said the charge was likely to reduce further over the coming years as more channels join the platform, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Ceann comhairle of the Dáil Sean Barrett last year said he hoped it would be carried free of charge.
“We’re talking about taxpayers’ money here,” Mr Barrett said.
Channel production and presentation for Oireachtas TV is estimated to cost approximately €200,000 annually.
In briefing material submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, Saorview pointed out that it does not receive subscription revenue to offset the cost of transmission.
It said households with Sky or UPC effectively pay all the cost of transmission, while free-to-air platforms such as Saorview charges these costs to channels in the form of tariff charges.
While precise viewing figures for Oireachtas TV are not available, UPC – which was the original platform to back the channel – has conducted a number of online surveys to help measure viewing patterns.
In a 2011 survey, 55 per cent of respondents said they never watched the channel.
Of the reminder, 20 per cent said they watched it infrequently, while 8 per cent watched it monthly. A further 15 per cent said they watched it either daily or weekly.
In a follow-up survey in 2012, the number who said they never watched it had fallen to 45 per cent.
The survey indicated daily or monthly views increased by about 10 per cent over the previous year, coinciding with a more prominent placement of the channel on its network.