Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is backing away from a proposed 150 forint (61 cent)-per-gigabyte tax on Internet usage that has contributed to repeated street protests in his country. The statement from the prime minister's office:
Prime Minister Orbán stated on Kossuth Radio's 180 Minutes program that the extension of the telecommunications tax cannot be introduced in its current form, adding that the tax legislation submitted to Parliament has to be amended.
The Prime Minister pointed out that the process cannot go ahead as "the debate has gone astray" and "a common basis is missing", with the people envisioning an internet tax, when in reality it is the extension of the already existing telecommunications tax.
After the holidays, in mid-January, a national consultation will have to be launched regarding the internet, including its financial aspects, Mr Orbán said.
The possibility of such a tax had been something of a one-two punch when it came to Orbán's reputation at home and abroad, with some seeing in it evidence that Orbán was continuing an imposition of too many burdens on the majority of Hungary's population and helping to push the country out of the mainstream of a rapidly digitizing Europe by discouraging more Hungarians from going online.
The European Commission's out-going minister for its digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, quickly praised the move, saying in a statement, "I'm very pleased for the Hungarian people. Their voices were heard. I'm proud the European Commission played a positive role in defending European values and a digital Europe."
Worth noting, though, is that Orbán hasn't completely given up on the idea of applying a telecommunications tax to Internet traffic; he's just pushed it down the road a bit in the hopes of situating in a "national consultation" about the Internet's economic aspects. And in that vein, in a wide-ranging speech on challenges facing the world and Hungary delivered in Transylvania in August that was criticized by many, including by The Washington Post editorial board, the prime minister seemed to say that some threats to the Internet's openness were the result of a failed global liberalism:
[A]nother renowned analyst says that the internet, which the liberal world has viewed as a symbol of freedom for many years now, has been colonised by large corporations and he claims nothing less than that the biggest question currently is whether the forces of capitalism, meaning large international corporations, will succeed in doing away with the neutrality of the internet.
Coupled with the proposed Internet tax, those words signal a world leader who, like many world leaders, is still working out his thoughts on the best way forward when it comes to the Internet -- and that suggests that the nature of Hungary's online future is a debate delayed, not resolved.