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UPD Guardian Journo Demands £2 UK Broadband ISP Tax to Save Newspapers

Monday, Sep 24th, 2012 (7:42 am) - Score 1,628

The Guardian’s executive editor of investigations, David Leigh, has ignited a fresh debate by calling upon all broadband ISPs to force their customers into paying a “levy” of £2 a month per connection in order to help save the country’s struggling newspapers.

According to Leigh’s article, the internet is widely believed to be “killing off quality newspapers“. Meanwhile the rival licence-fee funded BBC website is said to “guarantee that [people] will never actually need to pay for a supply of reliable day-to-day news” and apparently almost everything else is all just “superficial junk” (what about BSkyB / Sky News?).

At the same time Leigh suggests that web advertising revenues can only pay for a fraction of the “high-quality investigative journalism” of commercial newspapers. On top of that Leign states that Paywalls, which prevent consumers from accessing online content unless you pay for it, will “never really work in a UK context” (the Financial Times adopted this solution several years ago with mixed success).

David Leigh said:

There are almost 20m UK households that are paying upwards of £15 a month for a good broadband connection, plus another 5m mobile internet subscriptions. People willingly pay this money to a handful of telecommunications companies, but pay nothing for the news content they receive as a result, whose continued survival is generally agreed to be a fundamental plank of democracy.

A £2 levy on top – collected easily from the small number of UK service providers (BT, Virgin, Sky, TalkTalk etc) who would add it on to consumers’ bills – would raise more than £500m annually. It could be collected by a freestanding agency, on the lines of the BBC licence fee, and redistributed automatically to “news providers” according to their share of UK online readership.”

Apparently the proceeds from this levy could then be re-distributed, based on existing audience share, to each of the various mainstream newspapers (e.g. The Guardian could expect to receive about £100m a year). If any of this sounds familiar then that’s because the music industry has repeatedly coined the idea of an almost identical £1-£2 music tax for UK internet subscribers (example).

Both are interesting ideas and worthy of discussion, yet they also raise some serious questions. For example, does this mean we’d all be entitled to a “free” copy of every newspaper? Who decides what qualifies as a quality newspaper? Opinions vary. Wouldn’t this make it difficult for new print-based entrants to enter the market if they wanted to? What about those who don’t want to read newspapers, do they still have to pay and if not then how is that tracked? Is such a levy potentially anti-competitive versus rival online content?

Perhaps one of the biggest problems with this idea is that once you apply the principal to one industry, which some might argue has failed to adapt to the internet’s ever changing landscape, then where does it stop? Why not pay to save every industry that runs into similar trouble (e.g. music, film etc.)? Imposing and enforcing such a levy would be complicated and we’ve yet to see any real interest in similar ideas from ISPs.

But Leigh warns that without such a solution daily papers (published newsprints) might, in just five years’ time, be gone for good.

UPDATE 2:24pm

Internet providers have begun to respond, with the ISPA UK describing the idea as “flawed” (here).

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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