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on their Facebook page, said demonstrations must be free of violence and rallies would continue until the tax is withdrawn "in its entirety."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