New universal radio and television fee - Federal Council Message
Bern, 29.05.2013 - In future, a practicable and appropriate universal fee will fund the public service in radio and television. This is proposed in the Federal Council Message on partial revision of the Radio and Television Act (RTVA) which it submitted to parliament today. The new universal fee will – with exceptions – be paid by all households and businesses; it will replace the current reception fee and will be somewhat lower. The switch to the new universal fee was generally welcomed in the consultation process. In addition, the model provides for greater flexibility and a simpler licensing procedure for private radio and television stations.
The emphasis of the partial revision of the Radio and Television Act (RTVA) is on the replacement of the current reception fee by a universal radio and television fee which is no longer linked to the existence of a receiver. The universal fee will in principle be paid by every household and business with following exceptions:
People receiving supplementary benefits will continue to pay no charge for radio and television. For the first time, the exemption is retroactive to the start of receipt of benefit; this takes into account a concern raised in the public consultation.
Another new feature is that in future small businesses will not have to make a contribution to the public service. Currently some 70 percent of all companies are exempt from the fee. The Federal Council intends to exempt businesses with an annual turnover of less than CHF 500,000 from the universal fee. This amount is equivalent to the threshold for the obligation on companies to keep comprehensive accounts under new accounting law. This limit led to controversial comments in the consultation phase, but the Federal Council is maintaining it.
No "opting out"
The Federal Council's proposal does not include any possibility of exemption from the universal fee if there are no devices for radio or television reception in the household, and therefore meets parliament's mandate. Several cantons, parties and other organisations called for such an "opting out" in the public consultation. "Opting out" would still mean a link to a device, would perpetuate the existing disadvantages (see box) and would involve corresponding expenditure for processing exemption notifications as well as checks on households. Greater expenditure on collection and fewer people obliged to pay the universal fee would mean that the reduction in the universal fee would be smaller in comparison with the current reception fee.
Collection of the universal fee
A private organisation (a collection agency) will be commissioned to collect the universal fee from households. It will obtain the data on households from the population registers of the cantons and municipalities. The collection agency has not yet been finalised – the corresponding mandate is being drafted.
The universal fee will be collected from businesses by the Federal Tax Administration (FTA) using value added tax data. A majority of those making comments during the public consultation preferred this variant. The alternative was for the collection agency to collect the universal fee from households and business using data from the tax administration. The variant opted for by the Federal Council was regarded by the majority in the consultation phase as more efficient and less costly; in particular, an interface between the tax administration and the collection agency is not necessary in this case.
Amount of the universal fee
The new universal fee is not intended to lead to the recipients, i.e. the SRG, private stations, the collection agency etc. receiving more revenue. The aim is that the current revenue remains the same (revenue neutrality). Since the total amount is spread over more households and businesses, it is expected that individuals will therefore pay less. Subject to this condition, the universal fee for each household will be approximately CHF 400 per annum (it is currently CHF 462), if the system change is implemented as proposed by the Federal Council. Whether the revenue from the universal fee should be increased or decreased is a media policy decision which should continue to be taken by the Federal Council - independently of the chosen collection system.
The future universal radio and television fee, unlike the current reception fee, is no longer linked to a receiver and must therefore be paid by every household and business. The reason for the change in the system is technological development. Today, multifunctional devices such as smartphones, computers and tablets can also receive radio and television programmes. What passes as a receiver is no longer clear. This means that now virtually every household has access to radio or television programmes and is subject to the universal fee. The considerable administrative burden on the fee collection agency for registrations and de-registrations and the associated checks on households and businesses can no longer be justified. In addition, the general public currently bears the brunt of the missing contributions from viewers and listeners who do not pay the fee (licence dodgers). The universal fee solves these problems by means of a convenient and appropriate system. By means of this proposal, the Federal Council is fulfilling parliament's mandate to work out a new, device-independent charging system. One unchanged objective of the universal fee is the funding of radio and television programme services of the SRG and of private radio and television stations with a performance mandate in all regions of Switzerland (public service).
Private stations' shares of the universal fee
At present, the amount of the fee which is allocated to private radio and television stations cannot always be paid in full due to shortcomings in the system. A flexible solution in the RTVA should prevent this. Thus a variable percentage rate, rather than a fixed rate, of the fees intended for the private radio and television stations is envisaged. The reactions in the public consultation process were so varied that the Federal Council is adhering to the consultation proposal.
A statutory provision is being made regarding the use of the amount, approximately CHF 69 million, amassed since 2007 and a partial repayment to fee-payers is being proposed. Naturally, numerous alternatives were proposed during the consultation process. The Federal Council is adhering to the repayment, since the proposals concerned areas which are already currently being subsidised (new technologies, education and training, mountain areas and remote regions).
In the future the regional television stations with a licence will be expected to subtitle their main information broadcasts. This will mean that hearing-impaired people will also have an opportunity to benefit from these programmes. This service will be financed from the reception fees and the new universal radio and television fee.
Local and regional radio and television licences may be granted only if freedom of expression and diversity is not compromised. This arrangement has led to some prolonged licensing procedures. To simplify the issuing of a licence, this will no longer have to be verified in advance. However, the issue of concentration of the media continues to play an important role in licensing: if several equivalent applications are received, the station which most enriches media diversity will receive the licence. In addition, a media company may still hold a maximum of two radio and two TV licences. Finally, the DETEC may at any time, even after commencement of transmission, check whether freedom of opinion and diversity are endangered and if necessary take appropriate measures.
The Federal Council Message is now being dealt with by the two chambers of the federal parliament. The next step which is envisaged is the preliminary consultation by the competent parliamentary commission. The entry into force of the revised Act is unlikely to take place before 2015. It will only be possible to implement the change to the new charging system when the new collection agency is set up and can assume its activity. This is expected to take two more years.
Address for enquiries
Federal Office of Communications OFCOM Media Office phone: 032 327 55 50