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Cable Technology Feature Article

March 04, 2013

Sweden Applies TV Tax to Internet-Using Homes Without TVs

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

Sweden's new policy of taxing the use of PCs and tablets to watch the state-owned TV service neatly illustrates the regulatory challenges that accompany changing communications and entertainment ecosystems.

Traditionally, Swedish households owning televisions have paid a monthly tax of SEK173 ($27) per month to support Sveriges Television, Sveriges Radio and educational broadcasting known as Utbildningsradion.

But Sweden's Radiotjänst collection agency now is collecting the fee even from Internet-connected computers.

Denmark already charges a similar TV license fee for Internet-connected devices.

The move by Radiotjänst effectively makes a key form of broadcasting regulation applicable to PCs, notebooks and tablets, in a real sense, even when owners of tablets or PCs do not watch TV.

Smartphones have been exempted from the law, at least for the moment, on grounds that the primary function of a smartphone is communications, not watching TV. Obviously, that distinction will be virtually impossible to maintain over the long term. But there is an existing principle that the TV tax applies to a household, not devices.

Presumably, that means Swedish households without TVs, but using Internet-connected PCs or tablets, will pay the fee only once, and will not have to pay for smartphone use, in addition to tablet or PC access.

Households that do not own PCs or tablets (possibly only a small fraction of all households), and do use smartphones, might ultimately be forced to pay the fee as well. The point is not whether it is “fair” or “right” for Sweden, the United Kingdom or Denmark to tax owners of TVs.

The point is that rapid changes in user behavior and device capabilities are changing the actual environment within which regulatory policy is conducted. Any nation that has distinct regulatory regimes for broadcasting, communications, Internet and print media will increasingly have to confront the growing contradictions and irrationality of older forms of regulation.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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