In 2022, the Austrian Constitutional Court ruled that receiving TV programmes online and streaming them without paying so-called GIS fees is “unconstitutional”, as The Local reported.
Consequently, the court has asked the legislative powers (Austria’s National Council, Federal Council and Federal Assembly) to take action by “closing the streaming gap” by the end of 2023.
GIS is Austria’s TV and radio licence that can set people who have TV equipment at home back between €22.45 and €28.25, depending on the state, a month. Most of that money goes to the public broadcaster ORF and pays for in-house productions, broadcasting equipment, technical equipment, licenses and more.
READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pay Austria’s TV and radio fee, or (legally) avoid it
Even people who don’t watch ORF programmes need to pay for GIS as long as they have a device capable of receiving the broadcast. However, those who don’t pay for it because they don’t have such devices can still stream the content online, which the court ruled unconstitutional.
By the end of 2023, Austria’s Parliament will have to decide on new rules not to exempt those who access ORF online from payment.
Experts have discussed different solutions, from extending payment to every household in Austria to creating a paywall for watching ORF content online. According to Austrian media, there are now three alternatives being considered.
A household taxation
In this alternative, a levy would be collected regardless of reception devices – so exemption due to not owning a radio or TV would no longer exist, according to news site Heute. Instead, every household in Austria would pay around €18 per month, similar to what currently happens in Germany.
There would be exemptions for low-income households.
In this scenario, ORF would receive more than 60,000 additional payers – and thus more revenue.
READ ALSO: Austria set to make TV and radio fees mandatory for everyone
GIS for more devices
Currently, the fee can only be collected for stationary, operational broadcast reception devices (television, radio), according to GIS.
A new solution would be extending the GIS obligation to all devices suitable for broadcast reception or Internet access, such as computers and smartphones. Since practically every household owns such devices, this model would be a de facto household levy.
However, GIS inspectors would have to continue to ask and check whether there are specific devices in the household.
Another possibility discussed is financing ORF via general taxes, adding the broadcaster to the government’s budget. The financing would have to be indexed (adjusted automatically to inflation) with an amount legally fixed through National Council’s approval.
However, there is still concern that adding the ORF to the federal budget would expose the news channel to political influence.
READ ALSO: How Austria’s TV licence changes may affect you (even if you don’t watch TV)
Another alternative many users prefer would be a paywall for watching ORF content online. Many viewers consider this the only fair solution because, they say, one shouldn’t pay for a service not consumed. Logins and access keys may be easily abused, though. Besides, a paywall wouldn’t solve the corporation’s biggest issue, its decreasing revenues.
Which option will actually replace the GIS fee is currently the subject of intensive negotiations between politicians and ORF, Heute said. A decision is to be made by the end of March so that the broadcaster can put together its budget for 2024 in good time.