The issue of Internet tax continues to be the focal point of protests in Hungary, with multiple reports stating that thousands turned out in Budapest on Tuesday night to protest the government’s proposal. Yet, the issue appears to have sprouted from years of discontent, with the problem of state regulation over Internet usage likely to be a future spark point for other developed nations in the near future.

Viktor Orbán – the Prime Minister of Hungary and leader of Conservative Governing party, Fidesz – announced the intention to tax Internet use from 2015 onwards. Announcing the proposal before consulting any industry groups, the government outlined its intentions for introducing the tax. It was meant to tax phone calls, as people are increasingly using the Internet to make calls, and the revenues would help to improve Internet access in rural areas.

The proposed plan would force Internet service providers to charge 700 forints (£1.80) per subscriber a month and 5,000 forints per business subscriber. Initially, the tax was set to charge a user 150 forints per gigabyte of Internet traffic used, but Fidesz stated that it would place a cap on the tax.

Clearly this has received public backlash, both within and outside Hungary’s borders.

The proposed bill has been criticized by activists, citing that it will curb many fundamental democratic rights, impede access to the Internet and further widen the digital divide that the country already faces.

The latest rally, which allegedly attracted more than 10,000 people according to local websites, is also a sign of the growing discontent among mostly younger Hungarians over Viktor Orbán’s controversial policies, which critics say are centralising power and increasing the influence of the state.

Since the beginning of 2014, Orbán has been under much controversy, most of which has gone unnoticed by a global audience. Back in July, Orbán travelled to Romania and gave a speech to supporters, declaring the Western democratic model to be dead: ‘We are parting ways with Western European dogmas, making ourselves independent from them’, he declared. ‘We have to abandon liberal methods and principles of organising a society. The new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state’. The Hungarian PM is adamant in adopting a more authoritarian model, emulating Singapore, Russia, China and Turkey.

One common principle that the four aforementioned countries share, in some form or another, is their influence over national media and non-governmental organisations. Reports from various news institutions and rights groups have spoken out against Orbán’s laws against Hungarian media. Using public television networks to spurt out government propaganda, the government will also ‘allegedly’ use the tax system to muscle, intimidate and strike fear into critical media outlets in the country.

It is likely that Orbán and his policies will clash head on with Brussels, at a time when the EU is set to provide four years of funding, estimated at £26.8 billion, to boost projects in the country.

Yet the wider concern is if Hungary is successful in its implementation of a tax on Internet usage, this will likely affect and target the impact of activists against Orbán’s regime, not to mention the impact the already weakened opposition can have against the railing party. Moreover, this is an issue that can go well beyond the country’s borders, with the heightened concern that other nations could follow suit.

How the events of the protests span out remains to be seen, and whether they will prove effective against a regime that seems firm on achieving its goals. Yet, it is an issue that could likely haunt other developed nations in the near future, as the Internet has tremendous power that can be used for and against political monopolies.

 

Sources:

Budapest autumn: hollowing out democracy on the edge of Europe http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/29/budapest-viktor-orban-democracy-edge-hungary

Protests held in Hungary against Internet tax –  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2014/10/protests-held-hungary-against-internet-tax-2014102823593610819.html

Hungarians march against proposed tax on Internet use –  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/30/world/europe/hungarians-march-against-proposed-tax-on-internet-use.html?_r=0

Hungary Profile – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17380792

Hungarians march again in protest of Internet tax plan – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/29/hungarians-protest-internet-tax-plan-orban