Monthly broadband charge instead of TV licence fee ‘not really a runner’, says Government source

Issue of how to fund RTÉ emerging as potential fault line in Coalition

The prospect of a levy being placed on broadband bills to replace the TV licence fee has been played down by Government figures.

Reports on Sunday suggested that a €10 to €15 monthly charge could be placed on household internet and phone bills, but a Coalition source said such a levy “isn’t really considered a runner”.

The Government has committed to making a decision on the future funding model for RTÉ early this year once expert reports on last year’s controversy at the broadcaster arising from undisclosed payments to star presenter Ryan Tubridy are completed.

The source said: “[A broadband levy] hasn’t been used to fund public service broadcasting in any other country in the world so it’s uncharted territory. There are about 100 broadband firms out there of various shapes and sizes so it’d be administratively tricky.”


The Government believes such a levy could not take account of the varying speeds and qualities of broadband around the country, raising equity issues, and it could also discourage rural dwellers from signing up to the National Broadband Plan. It would also raise issues around how to put in place exemptions for pensioners and low-income families.

“Really, the only two shows in town in terms of replacing the licence fee are exchequer funding, which could have a number of safeguards to protect RTÉ and other public service broadcasters’ independence, and some form of media charge which could potentially be collected by Revenue.”

The future of RTÉ's funding is a potential fault line within the Coalition. Minister for Media Catherine Martin has consistently indicated she wants direct exchequer funding to be considered, but is facing opposition from Minister for Finance Michael McGrath and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said on Sunday he would have “real reservations” about direct funding that would in effect tie spending on public service media to decisions made by the government of the day.

Mr Martin told RTÉ's This Week programme the licence fee would be in place for the remainder of this year “and perhaps even next year”.

He said there would be “issues” around a broadband levy, saying no position on that had been brought forward for the Government to consider.

Speaking on RTÉ's Week in Politics programme, Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney said he hoped a new funding model for RTÉ would be put in place, but that he “can’t say for sure” what it would be as the Government has “to agree it first”.

The Government is unlikely to settle the matter before Prof Niamh Brennan of UCD produces a report on RTÉ's governance framework for Ms Martin. The Minister also asked consultant Brendan McGinty to examine how RTÉ engages presenters and contractors.

A Government spokesman said the reports designed to inform a decision on the licence fee were “expected in late February”.

Two other reports on governance breakdown at the national broadcaster are set to be published in the coming days. These will examine how the organisation came to lose €2.2 million in the Toy Show the Musical debacle and assess whether staff severance deals were managed correctly.

Dáil public accounts committee chairman Brian Stanley, a Sinn Féin TD, said the committee awaits the release of the findings before finalising its own report on the affair. “We don’t want to sign off until we see these reports,” Mr Stanley said.

RTÉ's board hired accountants Grant Thornton to examine the musical’s failure amid political uproar over the loss incurred by the Christmas 2022 production. After questions over the severance terms for former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe, director general Kevin Bakhurst separately asked solicitors McCann FitzGerald to examine staff exit deals.

In preparation behind the scenes for several months, the two reports had been scheduled for release in December. However, publication was deferred at the last minute because the work was ongoing.

The documents now appear set to be published later this week, bringing RTÉ back into the centre of political debate as the Dáil resumes after the Christmas recess.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times