Protesters celebrate after Hungary puts internet tax on ice

The Hungarian ruling party has removed a planned levy on internet traffic from its proposed budget.
Written by Michiel van Blommestein, Contributor

Hungary's ruling party has removed the controversial 'internet tax' from its proposed budget, the country's prime minister Viktor Orban said this morning on national radio.

The ruling Fidesz party last week proposed an extension to the country's telecom laws whereby ISPs would be forced to pay a levy based on the number of gigabytes of traffic travelling over their network. After protests over the weekend, the plans were watered down by adding a cap per customer: 700 forints (€2.27) per individual customer per month, and 5,000 forints (€16.20) for businesses.

However, that amendment was also criticised by protestors, as well as the outgoing EC commissioner for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, whose office described the cap as an old political trick to make a law look better by watering down a more extreme proposal. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of Hungarians (and perhaps up to 100,000, according to protestors own estimates) took to the streets of the country's capital to voice their opposition to the plans.

Talking to Kossuth Radio this morning, Orban said that the plans in their present form do not seem to have the support of the people. "This tax in its current form cannot be introduced because the government wanted to extend telecommunications taxes, but the people see an internet tax," Orban said. "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 This must be withdrawn, and we do not have to deal with this now." Orban has announced a 'national consultation' on the issue, starting in January 2015.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacz confirmed Orban's statements on Twitter.

Protesters are celebrating the victory and have announced a rally later today. They are still wary of the government's agenda however. "He said that there won't be an internet tax in the current form, but we obviously don't want the tax in another form either," Daniel Fazekas, internet entrepreneur and spokesperson for the main protest group, told ZDNet. While happy for now, Fazekas is sceptical about the proposed national consultation.

"In the past we have seen that they would send out misleading questionnaires with very little response," he said. "And those who would respond, are usually people who get regular mails from [the ruling party] Fidesz. So it looks like a data fishing exercise."

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