Tag Archives: internet tax

What it looks like when 100,000 people rally for Internet freedom

Swarms of protesters took to the streets of Budapest, Hungary, on Tuesday night, waving their smartphones in the air to demonstrate against a planned tax on Internet use. The protest, which was the second in about a week, was largely organized through a Facebook page.

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Hungary internet tax cancelled after mass protests

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at a news conference in Brussels, 9 December 2011

Hungary has decided to shelve a proposed tax on internet data traffic after mass protests against the plan.

“This tax in its current form cannot be introduced,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

Large-scale protests began on Sunday, when demonstrators hurled old computer parts at the headquarters of Mr Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.

The draft law – condemned by the EU – would levy a fee on each gigabyte of internet data transferred.

The protesters objected to the financial burden but also feared the move would restrict free expression and access to information.

The levy was set at 150 forints (£0.40; 0.50 euros; $0.60) per gigabyte of data traffic.

After thousands protested the government decided to cap the tax at 700 forints per month for individuals and 5,000 forints for companies. But that did not placate the crowds.

Crowd of protesters on Budapest's Elisabeth Bridge, 28 Oct 14

‘It should not be done’

Fidesz had said the special tax was needed to balance Hungary’s budget in 2015.

Speaking on Kossuth public radio, Mr Orban said that “if the people not only dislike something but also consider it unreasonable then it should not be done…

“The tax code should be modified. This must be withdrawn, and we do not have to deal with this now.”

He said a measure seen by the government as a technical issue had become “a fear-inducing vision”.

There will be a national consultation on it in January, he said.

A European Commission spokesman, Ryan Heath, said the tax was “bad in principle” because it was a unilateral measure applied to a global phenomenon.

He said it was “part of a pattern… of actions that have limited freedoms or sought to take rents without achieving wider economic or social interest” in Hungary.

The Commission has previously criticised Mr Orban’s government for constitutional proposals seen to be cementing the Fidesz party’s political dominance.

Imagine having to pay tax on internet usage

Hungary’s leadership is under pressure to drop plans to tax Internet use, a move seen as a way to cut off public debate by limiting information not controlled by the rightist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Tens of thousands of Hungarians gathered in the streets of Budapest this week to protest the plan.

“This is limiting free access to the Internet and information,” said Balazs Gulyas, 27, a former member of the Hungarian Socialist Party who set up a Facebook page last week that inspired the protests. “It is an attempt to create a digital iron curtain around Hungary.”

Mr. Gulyas’s page had attracted more than 230,000 followers by Wednesday afternoon, a day after a large demonstration in the capital, giving it more followers than Hungary’s governing party, Fidesz.

The government denies the tax was devised to inhibit access to information, saying it is an extension of an existing tax on telephones that is being put in effect because a growing share of communication has moved online.

Zoltan Kovacs, a government spokesman, described the protests as an attempt by the country’s splintered opposition to organize around a movement that it pretended was nonpartisan. Mr. Gulyas, he said, is “but one of the many political activists who try to camouflage a political movement as civilian.”

Mr. Gulyas responded, “I have created the Facebook page and the event entirely of my own initiative.”

Mr. Orban won a second consecutive term in April when his Fidesz party and a small conservative ally won a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which effectively allows it to pass whatever laws it wants. It has come under increasing criticism at home and from many Western governments, including in Washington, for its authoritarian impulses.

Earlier this month, the United States Embassy in Budapest said it would deny visas to six Hungarian officials in response to “credible evidence” that they were involved in attempts to elicit bribes from American companies.

The appearance on Sunday of M. André Goodfriend, the chargé d’affaires at the United States Embassy in Budapest, at a protest against the bill inspired a heated exchange on Twitter between him and Mr. Kovacs.

“Checkin’ the mood, André?!” Mr. Kovacs asked in a post on the social network, asking why the diplomat had attended a demonstration organized by “liberals” and the Socialist Party. “As Chargés d’Affaires? Interesting. Eh?”

From his Twitter account, Mr. Goodfriend said: “When I want to influence, I speak. Otherwise, I’m listening. Sometimes, there’s not enough listening.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Kovacs tried to play down any acrimony with the United States. “We believe that it’s a mutual interest to sort out the problems we are encountering,” he said.

Under the bill proposed by the government last week, which followed tax increases in banking, energy and other economic sectors, data traffic would be taxed at the rate of 150 Hungarian forint, or about 62 cents, per gigabyte.

After an initial protest on Sunday that drew about 10,000 people, the government said it would alter the proposal to cap the tax at 700 forint a month. The ceiling would apply to each Internet subscription, whether on computers, mobile devices or cable services.

Government officials say the tax would be levied on Internet providers, not customers. Their critics, however, say it is inevitable that any taxes would be passed on to consumers.

None of the back-and-forth appeased the demonstrators, who turned out in much larger numbers on Tuesday and in a growing number of cities.

“A lot of people feel that the Internet has been a sort of refuge,” Mr. Gulyas said, “and now the government is interfering with that.”

Tens of Thousands rally over internet tax in Hungary despite govt concessions

Ten-thousand participants march accross the Elisabeth bridge during an anti-government rally against the goverment's new tax plan for the introduction of the internet tax next year in Budapest on October 28, 2014. (AFP Photo)

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in Hungary despite the government’s amendment of a controversial internet tax bill. The demonstrators say the country is turning anti-democratic and drifting away from the EU.

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The protest against the policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban reignited on Tuesday night, as an estimated 100,000 people took to the streets, reports Reuters.

The demonstration follows similar action on the weekend, at which protesters demanded that legislation imposing a tax on internet traffic be withdrawn within 48 hours.

Kunhalmi Ágnes az ablakából szimpatizál. Botos Tamás felvételei.

Instead, the government introduced an amendment on Monday that caps the proposed tax at 700 forints ($3) per month for individuals and 5,000 forints ($21) for companies. This wasn’t enough for the protesters, who accuse the government of authoritarian trends.

A vitatható értékű V, mint vendetta című filmből ismert Guy Fawkes-maszk kötelező kelléke az újbalos tüntetéseknek. Az Anonymus-csoport jelképe is.

Since taking power in 2010, Orban’s center-right government has imposed taxes on the banking, retail, energy and telecommunications sector. The measures are designed to keep the budget deficit in check, but have hurt some foreign investors’ profits.

People hold up their mobile phones as they protest against a new tax on Internet data transfers in the centre of Budapest, October 28, 2014. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh)

The PM’s Fidesz party scored a landslide victory in this month’s municipal elections, while left-wing parties performed poorly, failing to produce a joint candidate to spearhead their campaign.

The people behind the protests, however, are evidently not among Orban’s supporters, as they were demanding his ouster during the latest rally.

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The crowd organized by a Facebook-based social network, which appeared to be composed of well-heeled professionals, marched through central Budapest carrying slogans like “How many times do you want to skin us?”

Tens of thousands of Hungarians march across the Elisabeth Bridge during a protest against new tax on Internet data transfers in centre of Budapest, October 28, 2014. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh)

“I am a student, my parents are not well off, neither am I, so I work hard,” Ildiko Pirk, a 22-year-old studying nursing, told Reuters. “I doubt the internet companies will build this tax into their prices. And I have a computer, a smartphone, as does my mother and my four siblings… That adds up.”

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She said the internet was vital for her to read unbiased news not under the control of Hungary’s ruling political elite. The rallying cry that taxing the internet was anti-democratic was strong among many protesters.

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The Hungarian government denies accusations of authoritarianism. It insists the new tax compensates for the loss of taxes in other sectors of telecommunications, such as already-taxed telephony and text messages, as people switch to internet-based services.

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The mistrust towards the government was fueled recently by the US, which imposed travel bans against a handful of Hungarian individuals. Washington has “credible information that those individuals are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption,” the US Embassy in Budapest said in a statement.

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The Hungarian government was apparently taken by surprise with the move and requested the US to provide evidence of the alleged wrongdoing.

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Another accusation against Orban’s government is that his policies are drawing Hungary further away from other European Union members. This is true in so far as Hungary is a vocal opponent of sanctions against Russia, currently a key EU policy.

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The prime minister criticized the sanctions, saying they hurt Europeans more than they hurt Moscow, and pledged to lobby for their abolition.

The sanctions were imposed over Russia’s position in the Ukrainian crisis, which started almost exactly a year ago with street protests not unlike those unfolding in Budapest now.

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In November 2013, Ukrainians took to the streets after the Ukrainian government postponed an integration deal with the EU.

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The Kiev protests lasted months, escalated into street battles, an eventual ousting of the government in an armed coup and a civil war in the east of the country. These events were cheered by the US and the EU, but harshly criticized by Moscow, which viewed the events in Ukraine as foreign-orchestrated regime change.

Innen vonult a tömeg a József Attlia utcán és a Lánchídon át a Clark Ádám térre.

Hungarians Hold Second Internet-Tax Rally as Cabinet Unmoved

Thousands of Hungarians took to the streets of Budapest to protest a proposed tax on Internet traffic that they say is unfair and undemocratic, Reuters reports.

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Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government revealed the plan last week. It would charge Internet users 150 forints ($0.66 U.S.) per gigabyte of Internet traffic—companies could write off the cost on their income taxes.

The maximum amount would by 700 forints, less than three U.S. dollars, but for many people, it appears that any tax on Internet traffic is too much.

Internet activists in the country organized a rally on Facebook held in front of the Economy Ministry. The organizers called themselves the “100,000 Against The Internet Tax.”

“The move… follows a wave of alarming anti-democratic measures by Orban that is pushing Hungary even further adrift from Europe,” the organizers of the rally said in a statement.

“The measure would impede equal access to the Internet, deepening the digital divide between Hungary’s lower economic groups, and limiting Internet access for cash-poor schools and universities.”

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The protesters came out on Sunday, brandishing smartphones to light up the building. Some of them went to the headquarters of the Fidesz party and threw computer parts at the building, breaking windows.

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This isn’t the first time there has been proposed Internet legislation thought unfair.

In 2012, websites across the world blacked themselves out to protest the SOPA and CISPA bills in the U.S. that they said would have placed too many restrictions on them in the name of curbing copyright violations.

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Later that year, the European Union’s signing of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which similarly contained measures to combat copyright infringement online, also generated protests across Europe, after which the EU effectively rejected it.

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The “Arab Spring” protests in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa were also heavily coordinated over the Internet.

Thousands in Hungary protest Internet tax plan

Thousands of demonstrators light up their mobile phones as they protest against an internet tax planned to be introduced by the Hungarian government in front of the Ministry of National Economy in Budapest, Hungary, 26 October 2014.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Budapest on Sunday to protest the Hungarian government’s Internet tax plan.

View image on Twitter

The Internet tax plan was contained in a draft legislative package for next year.

If passed, Internet service providers will have to pay 150 forints (62 U.S. cents) for each gigabyte of data downloaded by users.

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Balazs Gulyas, who founded the Facebook page “One hundred thousand against the Internet tax,” called on the government to withdraw the bill.

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Addressing protesters in front of the economy ministry building, Gulyas said the government had 48 hours to withdraw the bill. If the government fails to do so, they will demonstrate again on Tuesday, he added.

Tüntetés az internetadó ellen Budapesten

The crowd then moved to Heroes’ Square. Some protesters left the square and went to the Fidesz party headquarters where police lined up. Some people threw used computer parts at the building, damaging windows.

Hungarian citizens lift their mobile phones to protest against the goverment's new tax plan for the introduction of the internet tax next year in Budapest downtown on October 26, 2014. (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)

Violence offers no solution to anything, the Fidesz party said in a statement, adding that it was open to dialogue and prepared to submit an amendment to the bill.

Fotó: Analóg Utópia

Small-scale demonstrations against Internet tax were also held in cities like Miskolc, Pecs and Veszprem.

Opposition parties MSZP, LMP, E-PM, DK and Jobbik criticized the Internet tax proposal and supported the demonstration.