New TV licence fee plans scrapped
Robyn Hamilton
Staff Writer

Over 30,000 TV-less homes can rest easy tonight as the news comes in that the government has backed off on plans to extend the annual €160 TV licence fee to owners of devices over 12 inches in size. The plans would have meant that any households that use items such as laptops, PCs and tablets would have been forced to pay the fee regardless of whether they owned a TV or not.

The plans, which were proposed in March in response to the public’s changing viewing habits as well as to similar changes made over in the UK have been dropped by Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, who claims that the scheme would be too costly and too difficult to enforce.  

A spokeswoman for Mr Naughten said:

“The [Oireachtas] committee’s view on whether a device larger than 12 inches should be included in the licence fee net due to the rapid changes in technology and people’s TV content viewing habits was to be sought. The Minister has withdrawn the proposal in its entirety, and will not be bringing the matter before Cabinet as part of the Broadcasting Amendment Bill 2017.”  

Though the level of TV licence fee evasion has dropped from 15.3% at the end of 2013 to the current rate of 13.75%, it still remains a large source of concern with Minister Naughten estimating it accounts for a €40 million yearly loss in Irish broadcasting funding.

What does this mean for Irish households?

The ongoing change in the public’s watching habits moving away from TV sets and more and more towards mobile devices that prompted the original plan changes are not likely to stop any time soon.

Mobile TV watching is increasing in popularity as online TV players and other streaming services become more ubiquitous with many no longer seeing a need to sit down in front of a physical TV set. This trend is reflected in the increasing demand for broadband-only plans.

It’s becoming more common to find people who don’t want or need to pay for a TV service or a landline connection - they can get everything they want online with the aid of the likes of Netflix, RTE Player, WhatsApp and so on. Watching their favourite TV show on a physical TV set is now becoming a luxury rather than a necessity. It’s not surprising that a TV licence extension was proposed to include mobile devices.   

It’s likely that most will welcome the news that they could potentially be saving €160 a year but it’s worth remembering that the TV licence fee pays for RTE’s national public broadcasting, as well as partly funding TG4 and the BAI.

The TV licence fee contributes to countless Irish incomes and also helps to produce quality original Irish programming, much of which wouldn’t exist without it.

If the current trends are to continue and with fee evasion rates so high as it is, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the issue to be raised in government again.

Private TV licence inspection:

The communications department is also keen to introduce a new system of TV licence ‘enforcers’ because a similar programme in the UK resulted in a reduction of fee evasion. As such, Minister Naughten is bringing the Broadcasting Amendment Bill before Cabinet today. If enacted, the proposal will allow for a tender process to be rolled out for a new ‘TV licence agent’.

This means that a private company could soon take over from An Post to carry out TV licence inspections. An Post can still apply to keep the tender but it’s a loss-making service for them, costing the company around €12 million per year.

Details of the tender have yet to be finalised but it’s expected that any company wishing to win the contract would have to adhere to certain criteria and would have to submit a dedicated business plan detailing how it plans to bring down licence fee evasion rates.   

Reallocation of funds:

Minister Naughten is also seeking to amend The Broadcasting Act of 2009 to allow for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to be allocated a larger proportion of TV licence fees collected. Broadcasters are experiencing financial pressure from a loss of advertising revenue and this amendment aims to reduce this pressure.

A farewell to TV sets?

Are you one of the 30,000 TV-less homes or would you like to become one? Have you considered the benefits of a high speed broadband-only plan? Do you subscribe to an online streaming service like Netflix, NOWTV or Ireland’s own Volta? Let us know in the comments section.