Street Demonstrations Against Hungary's Plan To Tax Internet Data Lead To A Partial Climbdown By Government

from the illiberal-state dept

Last week, the Hungarian government proposed introducing what is probably the world’s first Internet data tax, which would require Internet Service Providers to pay 150 Hungarian forints (around $0.60) for every gigabyte of traffic they sent to their customers. As this article on Bloomberg reports, the outrage from users was so great that tens of thousands of them took to the streets of Hungary’s capital, Budapest, in what is one of the largest anti-government demonstrations since Prime Minister Viktor Orban came to power four years ago:

Protesters, who gave the government until tomorrow to revoke its plan, said taxing Internet use was an attempt to restrict freedom of information by Orban, a recurrent argument against a leader whose centralization of power triggered criticism from allies including the U.S. and fellow European Union members. Demonstrators also railed against perceived corruption, after the U.S. this month barred six unidentified Hungarian officials on suspicion of corruption and called on the government to crack down on tax fraud.

“Those who use the Internet see more of the world, that’s why the government doesn?t want a free Internet,” organizer Balazs Gulyas told the crowd. “We?re not going to pay an Internet tax to a corrupt tax authority.”

As that makes clear, this is not so much about the extra costs that such a tax would impose, as about the further attack on the freedom to access information, already greatly restricted in recent years under the current right-wing Hungarian government.

The Facebook page that was used to organize the protests has over 220,000 likes, and was publicized by no less a person than Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, who tweeted this to her 116,000 followers:

I urge you to join or support people outraged at #Hungary Internet tax plan who will protest 18h today #Budapest

The demonstration has already had an effect:

The ruling party issued a statement last night as protests were still under way that it would cap the tax at 700 forint and make telecommunication companies pay the levy instead of individual subscribers.

The leaders of the protest have said that they want the new tax to be dropped completely:

Organizers, on their Facebook page, said demonstrations must be free of violence and rallies would continue until the tax is withdrawn “in its entirety.”

However, the Hungarian government is unlikely to be willing to compromise further because it can point to backing for its policies from the Hungarian electorate:

Orban has won every election since coming to power, including his re-election in April to a second four-year term. In July, Orban called for replacing liberal democracy with an “illiberal state,” citing Russia and Turkey as possible examples to follow, while trying to hold on to the country’s EU membership, the source of billions of euros of funding.

The question is whether the protesters will be able to sustain their action, perhaps by trying to turn it into a more general challenge to the government, or whether most people who took part will see the cap on the tax as a good enough result.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Street Demonstrations Against Hungary's Plan To Tax Internet Data Lead To A Partial Climbdown By Government”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The amount of the tax is not THAT big, but it’s not the point. The point is that it is a foot-in-the-door tax, set without any kind of consultation with the people of Hungary (democracy? what’s that?). That’s why people want it gone completely.
It’s a battle of wills, to remind the government that it (should) serve the people, and not the other way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The amount of the tax is not THAT big”

But there are some principle laws governing government activities.

The law of government waste. Government waste can only be created, never destroyed.

The law of never decreasing taxes. Taxes can only be created, never destroyed.

The law of never decreasing bureaucracy. Government agencies can only be created, never destroyed.

These laws are about as valid as the laws of physics and the problem is that, if it weren’t for this tax, there maybe a future where transferring much larger sums of data becomes the norm. This puts limitations on such a future and once a tax is created it can never be destroyed (or reduced) only increased.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Someone commented on Soylentnews exactly what I wanted to say but only better so I’ll just quote them here.

by physicsmajor (1471) on Monday October 27, @09:33PM (#110716)

“So let me get this straight. They are demanding the full amount, but to placate the idiot masses they say they’ll cap the amount from consumers?

To everyone in Hungary: this means you are still paying the full amount. It’s in your bill, it’s just not a line item. The telecoms don’t get to magically waive money out of thin air; they’ll raise your rates immediately sufficient to amortize this “tax” across their consumers (that’s you) and pass this directly on.

If you were outraged to begin with, you should still be up in arms.”

Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You’re mistaken in two points:

1. The first demonstration were about the planned tax. One day later the govt. “agreed” (they “planned” this all along) to cap the tax for 700Ft / person, and that it’ll be paid by the ISP (lol). The second demonstration were to remind the government, that we don’t want cap on the tax, we don’t want assurances that the ISP will pay it, we want the tax gone entirely.

2. Theoretically they don’t demand the full amount from the ISP. They demand the capped amount per person from the ISP. (which they say won’t be shifted to the customers, but that’s a complete utter bullshit)

So you see, we’re still angry, still up in arms, and the government got another deadline to think this through. If they won’t, the next event is scheduled to november, when they vote on the taxes.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘make telecommunication companies pay the levy instead of individual subscribers’

so the Telecoms companies will then turn round and do what, exactly? that’s right! they will charge the customers in monthly subscriptions! there is no way that the companies will allow themselves to lose out!
the freedom issue is also very valid, but the problem is, all governments want to shut down freedom and free speech, starting with the USA! Hungary is going to be no different! the UK has already ignored the EU courts (and others will do the same) and is spying on everyone possible, just because the USA is. the land of opportunity has become more a land of surveillance and oppression!

foil fedora says:

the hidden hand

Anytime there are huge demonstrations in former Communist states, it’s always a fair bet that the US government (via front groups like the taxpayer-funded “NGO” National Endowment for Democracy) is likely the hidden hand behind such “popular” movements. This has been the case throughout numerous so-called “color” revolutions that have installed pro-US governments across the globe. The ongoing “pro democracy” demonstration in Hong Kong is also suspect, occuring in a place that has never had democracy -or such angry demonstrations demanding it- in its history, but by amazing coincidence, these street demonstrations start up when China has fallen out of favor with Washington.

In the case of Hungary’s career politician Viktor Orbán, he started out as an American puppet, but became increasingly independent in recent years. As such, he made himself a prime target for US-backed front groups operating throughout the “free” world that are skilled in the art of stirring up dissent, tipping elections, and organizing street demonstrations.

While it’s certainly nice to see people demonstrating against any government actions to regulate the internet, the fact that this uprising is happening against yet another leader who fell from America’s good graces needs to be viewed with at least some suspicion.

Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: the hidden hand

Taxing the internet were only the last straw of a string of new taxes introduced by his majesty Orban Viktor, who figures himself our glorious ruler.

People are fed up by the government’s ad-hoc, incompetent, corrupt politics.

The fact that people were there from every kind of age group and political affiliations is a good indication that this movement is not initiated by one party or organization. I don’t think any political party could rally much people, because most of the hungarians doesn’t believe in politics anymore.

foil fedora says:

Re: Re: the hidden hand

Everyone thinks that their ideas and beliefs are their own. They think that their decision to drink Coca Cola and smoke Marlboro cigarettes is a personal choice that has absolutely nothing to do with the massive advertising they’ve been blitzed with.

One of the most effective ways to control people is to make them think that your ideas are actually their own.

Corruption and incompetence have always been part of government, through good times and bad. But it only ever becomes an issue in people’s minds when they are being told that, whether directly or indirectly. Many of the worst governments in the world, like Cuba or North Korea, tend to have an amazingly high satisfaction rating. People feel the government is great because that’s what they’re being told all the time.

If you are an average normal person (and not a sociopath or social outcast) then you probably don’t have a single idea in your head that wasn’t put there by someone else, in some form or fashion. Yet few people will believe this, instead clinging to the notion that it’s a sheer coincidence that their beliefs just happen to coincide with others around them … and to the things on television, etc.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: the hidden hand

This is an excellent observation. A long time ago, I read a great essay called “Fascism in a pinstripe suit”. It made two very salient points:

1) Tyranny cannot persist without the majority of the citizenry being OK with it.

2) Fascism is always tailored to the sensibilities of the society it exists in. People who imagine that the US isn’t fascist because we don’t look much like fascist Italy or Nazi Germany are looking at the wrong things. US fascism would not look like either of those things at all. It would look American.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 the hidden hand

Ron Paul took a lot of heat a few years ago from his comment in response to a question about Mike Huckabee’s campaign commercial, saying that when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross. Supposedly a reference to Sinclair Lewis’s book It Can’t Happen Here.

Didn’t David Duke trade in his white robe for a pinstripe suit? It’s funny that there are still political advocacy groups where people dress in strange hooded robes or Nazi uniforms, which basically guarantees that most people will immediately shut them.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:3 the hidden hand

@ John Fenderson, bang on the money on both points.

@ AC, Ron Paul took a lot of heat a few years ago from his comment in response to a question about Mike Huckabee’s campaign commercial, saying that when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.

Ditto. That’s why I keep advocating against violent ANYTHING. The trouble with fascists is they think they’re the good guys; therefore, anyone who agitates against them is automatically one of the bad guys.

Until we can convince the majority of the citizenry otherwise, nothing will change.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...