Hungarians protest implementation of internet tax
By Leah Ching
In a truly amazing spectacle, thousands of Hungarians joined in solidarity and marched in protest against their government’s plan to tax the use of the internet. The proposed plan to levy a fee on each gigabyte of internet data transferred is seen by many as Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s latest “anti-democratic measure.”
The Hungarian government planned the tax as an effort to reduce the country’s debt and has stated that the taxes would only apply to the internet service providers, not the consumers. It was foreseeable to many that eventually this new tax burden would end up trickling down to common users.
Living in Canada, this prospect of ‘internet taxation’ to relieve debt may seem ridiculous, as it’s easy to find free access to Wi-Fi at almost any coffee shop or fast food joint. But beyond being a financial burden, citizens of Hungary also viewed the proposed tax as an effort to restrict their freedom of speech and expression.
The large-scale revolts ensued on Sunday where phones were lifted in protest, and old computers were thrown at the Prime Minister’s headquarters. To many, this plan wasn’t just a way to decrease state debt.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the taxation is viewed as an attempt to “limit access to information and keep everyone watching state-run media.” This measure at its face value seems like a fundraising strategy, but a closer analysis reveals that it can have serious social consequences for the citizens of Hungary.
Condemned by a large portion of the global community, the taxation of internet usage would greatly impede access to the internet and create a digital divide – inhibiting access to information and education for lower economic groups and poorer schools and universities.
The powers of political protest did not go unnoticed as Orban was forced into temporarily abandoning the idea of Internet taxation. Orban said that the government would next year continue to discuss internet “regulation and taxation.”
For now, Orban’s shelving of the tax plans is a great success for the citizens of Hungary and demonstrates the powers of the masses rising up in political protest to demand their rights within a democratic society.
This developing story is a constant reminder to those in democratic societies about the powers the public can have in expressing discontent and demanding political change. These Hungarian demonstrations indicated growing unhappiness with Orban’s policies, which have previously included imposing taxation on banking, retail, energy, and telecommunications.
Whether protestors feared the financial strain of Internet taxation, or viewed Orban’s ideas as an aim to restrict freedom to information, one thing is clear from this developing story: the undeniable power of political protest.