RAI eyes Italy's computers for pubcast fee

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ROME -- An estimated 54 million Italian home computers with video capabilities took a step closer to being legally classified as televisions Monday after state broadcaster RAI filed paperwork targeting computers for a fee aimed at supporting state-sponsored television.

On the same day, the broadcaster said it plans to let hundreds of thousands off the hook with a proposal that would free retirees from paying the 99 euro ($147) annual charge.

Each year, Italian households with at least one television pay the "canone," which is used to supplement advertising revenue at three RAI networks. Households with more than one television pay a lower rate for subsequent sets.

It is not clear how much of a financial impact either change would create, since it is difficult to determine how many video-capable computers are in homes that do not already have a television, or how many retirees live in households where no member works. But if both measures go into effect, they could have a dramatic impact on how RAI collects the canone.

The plan to classify computers as televisions is attracting opposition from consumer groups that sunk a 2007 proposal to require owners of video-capable cellular phones and MP3 players to pay a version of the fee.

According to government plans, at least one RAI network could be supported entirely by the canone as soon as 2010.
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