RAI eyes home computers for 'canone' fee

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ROME -- Italian state broadcaster RAI continues to expand its definition for what constitutes a television, floating a proposal Tuesday that could make computer owners pay additional fees that help supplement the three-network broadcaster's ad revenue.

The fee -- called a "canone" in Italy -- requires television owners to pay 99 euros ($146) per year for the first television in their home and a lower amount for subsequent televisions.

The proposal to add computers to the equation, proposed Tuesday by RAI officials in the region of Umbria, is based on a law dating to 1938 -- before the invention of the television and decades before the first computer -- when RAI was exclusively a radio broadcaster. If passed, it would be valid nationwide.

That statute requires that anyone with a "device capable of receiving ... a radio signal" should be required to pay an annual fee of 140 lire in Italy's now defunct currency, now the equivalent to about $0.08. In the 1960s, that same law was used to require television owners to pay a fee and, soon after, the fee for radio receivers was scrapped.

The proposal says that because many computers are capable of receiving television signals they should be classified as televisions. The proposal says that any given family's "canone" would be calculated based on how many televisions and/or computers a household has, meaning that for a family with one television and one computer, the computer would require a lower fee, as if it was a second television.

The new proposal illustrates that the boundaries between televisions and other devices continues to blur.

It is not the first time RAI tried to collect additional "canone" by changing the definition of what a television was. In October, the broadcaster introduced a proposal in parliament that would have charged a reduced "canone" for handheld devices capable of receiving television signals, such as television-enabled cellular phones or video MP3 players. But the proposal never gained much traction.
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