TV 'spongers' to be tracked through Sky
A NEW crackdown on television licence fee dodgers will target cable and satellite subscriber lists.
Inspectors working for An Post will be given access to the names and addresses of people paying subscriptions for cable and satellite channels in a tough new approach.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte yesterday secured government approval for the proposal so that "TV spongers" can be more readily identified and pursued.
"Licence fee evasion is an ongoing scourge here," said the minister.
"While in the nature of things it is difficult to be exact, we estimate that it is running at over 15pc, which is more than three times the rate in our nearest neighbour.
"This means that around €25m to €30m of potential revenue is lost annually to RTE.
"The objective of our TV licence system is to fund public service broadcasting.
"The revenue lost through fee evasion has an immediate impact on the quality of service that can be provided by the national broadcaster and creates an inequality between compliant licence-holders and evaders."
Mr Rabbitte said he had won approval for new legislation for An Post staff to access the subscription lists of companies such as Sky and UPC.
"This will allow An Post to cross-check all those households and businesses with cable or satellite TV services against their own database of licence fee payers," he said.
"Given the ComReg estimate that over 73pc of TV households have such services, this measure should significantly reduce the level of evasion."
At least one service provider has raised concerns about the plan.
A spokesperson for UPC said the company "is not in a position to give An Post access to our cable subscription data because this would contravene our obligations under data protection".
Mr Rabbitte said legislation is needed in order to implement the proposal "to ensure compliance with data protection concerns".
"An Post will have access to the information solely for its statutory functions in relation to licence fee collection and the commercial confidentiality of the information will have to be safeguarded," he said.
Saying the plans will bring the licensing system into the 21st Century, Mr Rabbitte said he hoped the bill will be passed by the end of the year and that it "will have an immediate impact on the revenues of our public service broadcaster".