Hungary Propose a Controversial Internet Tax

Scott Calonico

people protestingImagine for a moment that the Internet worked as follows:

  • Download an HD movie; the data will cost you $2.80 (in addition to the cost of the movie).
  • Watch YouTube videos for a couple of hours; that will be another $2.
  •  In addition, every 1GB of Web and email traffic will cost another 60 cents.

Given that you already pay for a connection, and for some of your content, this seems like madness. However, it’s exactly what they plan to do in Hungary, as part of a proposed new “Internet tax.”

Protests

Unsurprisingly, this new initiative has not proven popular. On 26th October, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to share their disapproval of the move. Crowds gathered around the Economics Ministry in Budapest, and some protesters threw old computers at the headquarters of the country’s ruling party.

Proposed Charges

The example costs we mentioned at the start of this article are based on the proposed taxes mentioned in the draft law. Each GB of data traffic would cost 150 Hungarian Forints, which at current exchange rates works out to around $0.60 or €0.50.

These costs could soon mount up, and this realisation led the government to amend the proposed law with the addition of a 700 Forint cap, equivalent to the tax on 4.6GB of data traffic. This amount of data, ironically, would typically be the file size of a single HD movie. 

Opponents of the new law say that it is “anti democratic,” and would hit poorer Internet users the hardest. One thing that’s for certain is that a tax of this nature does not fit well with the originally intended spirit of an open Internet. Plenty of technical people oppose increasing state interest in controlling the Web, and taxing data by the Gigabyte take things to a whole new level!

Technical Difficulties

From a technical perspective, it’s hard to imagine how such an Internet tax would work in practice. As is so often the case when governments get involved in something they don’t understand, it’s easy for a technical individual to pick holes in the idea.

For example, how would the tax apply to mobile data? If the tax is supposed to be capped, how would the government track one individual’s usage across multiple devices? How would shared connections work in offices and educational institutions?

With so many technical barriers to overcome, one must only hope that the protestors are successful in having the plan shelved. If one country manages to “tax the Internet,” other governments will no doubt envy the revenue generating opportunity and consider doing the same.