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Hungarians protest new plan for Internet tax

Tens of thousands of people amassed in front of the economy ministry building in Budapest on Sunday to demonstrate their opposition to government plans for a new Internet tax. Reuters described the protesters as "furious," as they urged politicians to uphold Internet freedom and stick to democratic ideals. It is obvious by the reaction from the public that the new tax has not been well-received.

The anger escalated when crowds drew near the ministry and threw LCD monitors and PC cases at the building and its windows. Other demonstrators left old tech gadgets at the doors of the governing party's office.

Draft for new Internet tax
The draft for the new plan has Internet service providers paying a tax – calculated per gigabyte – for information transferred over their networks. Protesters believe that eventually the tax burden will reach them at the user level. The Hungarian association of IT, telecommunications and electronics companies commented that the tax would force them to raise prices, reported Reuters.

The new tax would be the world's first – a trend that no one wants to see unfold. Economy minister Mihaly Varga made the announcement last week and the public has been furious since. Magyar Telekom, Hungary's leading telecom group, told Reuters in an emailed statement that the new tax may slow down the economy, which relies on information technology and the internet.

"[The new plan] threatens to undermine Hungarian broadband developments and a state-of-the-art digital economy and society built on it," the statement read, according to portfolio.hu.

Protest through social media
The announcement of the new tax resulted in the creation of a Facebook page that quickly gained followers. The page had over 100,000 members after a few hours and over 200,000 after five days. The Facebook page invited people to join the the protest on Sunday. At one point, access to the page was temporarily unavailable, however it was later restored. It is unclear how or why the page was temporarily unavailable.

Initially, 40,000 people were expected to attend the protest, but approximately 10,000 actually showed up. Portfolio.hu reported that 17,000 people followed the event through a live streaming site.

Criticisms of the new tax
The EU's digital chief Neelie Kroes believes that the new tax will hurt Hungary's digital economy.

"Unilateral Internet taxes are not a clever idea. It will increase Internet access prices for consumers," Kroes said, according to portfolio.hu.

Kroes also tweeted that people should join the protest and called for more participation to reject the tax.

An unnamed political analyst in Budapest commented that the protests don't really hurt the government, but they do indicate that national unity is not as strong as governments would like people to believe.

"At the same time when a government keeps saying both domestically and internationally that it is backed by a never-before-seen national unity, and it often uses this argument, then it must feel pretty awkward seeing such footage. The current situation is different in this sense," the analyst said, according to the news source. 

A new, strange and bad idea
The proposed Internet tax is a strange idea and one that has not been introduced before. Perhaps the government will be able to make some money from taxing service providers and Internet users, but the cost of their humiliation should also be factored in. Hungary is now receiving bad publicity in response to this recent development. Around the world, any place governments try to stifle free speech, censor the Internet or make changes to the way people express themselves, there is public outcry. The lesson to learn is that people want a free and open Internet. When governments mess with that, they get PCs thrown at their windows.

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