Italy mulls tax for watching TV on phones

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ROME -- Owners of mobile phones that also show TV content in Italy might have to pay a special fee to state broadcaster RAI for the service.

Initiatives being explored -- which are expected to spark fierce opposition from the makers of the devices -- are in their earliest stages. But the fact that such proposals have been even presented to lawmakers is evidence of the blurring boundaries between televisions and other devices.

The Italian parliament began grappling Tuesday with whether owners with mobile devices capable of showing television content should be charged extra fees.

The proposed initiatives would categorize mobile devices with TV-like capabilities -- such as television-enabled mobile phones or video MP3 players, including iPods -- as types of televisions, making their owners eligible for the annual "canone," the fee Italian residents pay each year to help support RAI.

"The broad point being made here is that it is no longer as easy to define what is a television and what is not," said Marco Petzullo, an author and communications expert at Roma Tre University. "Regardless of the outcome of the proposals out now, this issue will continue to resurface."

There was no indication that owners of laptop or desktop computers might also be included in any expanded definition of who must pay the canone.

It was not clear from the proposals how much the owners of such devices would be asked to pay or at what point it would be paid, though the most likely scenario would be that an extra fee would be added to the price of the devices.

Owners of traditional TVs in Italy now pay $138 per year for the first set in the house and lower rates for subsequent sets.

The measures are scheduled for debate during the coming weeks and, if a version is passed, it could be included in Italy's 2008 budget.


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