Broadcast charge to hit all homes – even those with no TV
EVERY household will have to pay a new "broadcasting charge" even if they do not own a television.
The move is intended to take account of the fact that many households are now watching RTE and TG4 programmes on their laptops and smartphones – and do not need to own a television. But it will also hit households who do not have any computer or television.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte confirmed in the Dail that it was his intention to get every household to pay the new broadcasting charge, even if they did not own a "device".
"In short, everyone benefits from the availability of these services, regardless of how content is accessed or relayed to the public and, therefore, it is my view that the cost should be borne by society as a whole," he said.
RTE has estimated that up to 15pc of households do not pay the TV licence fee – even though 99pc of houses have a TV.
It currently gets around €180m per year from the licence fee – and could see this increase by a further €25m if the new broadcasting charge is collected from all households.
Mr Rabbitte said that an independent group was carrying out a value-for-money review on the new broadcasting charge, which is due to be completed at the end of next month. It will have to make recommendations on the best way to collect the charge.
In the Dail, Mr Rabbitte did not give any specific commitment about when the charge would be introduced. It is not expected that it will be any higher than the current TV licence fee of €160 per year.
Currently, the lion's share of the licence fee revenue is given to RTE, which received €183m in 2011. TG4 also gets funding and 7pc of the licence fee is put into a fund for independent broadcast productions.
Fianna Fail communications spokesman Michael Moynihan asked if the revenue could be shared with local radio stations, which provide "an important public service".
But Mr Rabbitte said that there would be difficulties getting approval from the European Commission, which had rules on funding public service broadcasting.
And he said "spreading the butter so thinly" would have an impact on RTE's role as the national public service broadcaster.
"I have yet to be convinced that the distribution of public funds to independent commercial broadcasters represents a sound proposition in terms of policy for the sector," he said.
Age Action spokesman Eamon Timmins said the senior citizens' lobby group would insist that the Government retain the current waiver for the TV licence fee.
People aged 70 and over are entitled to a free TV licence as part of their Household Benefits package from the Department of Social Welfare.
"We would hope that the Government wouldn't take away the free TV licence," Mr Timmins told the Irish Independent.