Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has indicated that laws may be changed as those who currently don’t own a television but watch RTÉ programmes online may be obliged to buy a TV licence in the future.
Mr Naughten said there had been a rise this year in the number of households signing a declaration to say they have no television set. “We’re looking at the legal definition of that, because a lot of those people use the content.”
The current legal definition of a “Television set” as defined under the Broadcasting Act 2009 is, “any electronic apparatus capable of receiving and exhibiting television broadcasting services broadcast for general reception”.
The loophole here is that any online content via on-demand, player and other viewing services provided over the internet by broadcasters are not included in the definition of “broadcasting service”.
The evasion rate is estimated to be among 14 per cent in eligible households across the country. This results in a loss of up to €40 million to the Irish broadcasting sector.
Measures to tackle the evasion of those not paying a TV license fee could see the enforcement of licence fee collection by An Post being given to another organisation. Any of these potential measures would require revisions to existing legislation.
A similar loophole had existed in the UK which had enabled people to watch BBC content via its catch-up service iPlayer without being charged a licence fee. However, this ‘i-Player loophole’ was closed in September.
Mr Naughten said he had “looked at what they’re doing in the UK” and it was one of the options available to his department.
The officially abandoned household broadcasting charge, proposed as a replacement for the licence fee, would not have the required support of the Dáil, the Minister said.
However, the technological rationale for the charge remains. In a recent letter to the Oireachtas communications committee, Mr Naughten refers to the “rapid changes in technology” that are “altering the ‘traditional’ way in which television is watched”.