Hungarian Protesters Demand Tax-Free Internet

Is Hungary ready to service its debts at the cost of technological backwardness?

A massive crowd of more than 10,000 protesters took to streets in Budapest on Sunday against the Hungarian government's proposed plan of imposing tax on Internet usage.

The target of the protesters' fury was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cabinet, which put forth plans last week to impose taxes on Internet. Displaying slogans such as "Free Wifi! Free Internet! Free Hungary!" the protesters demanded Orban to scrap the proposed tax, and argued that the idea is an undemocratic move.

"There will be no Internet tax... we will block it," said protest organizer Balazs Gulyas, to the people who were holding their smartphones aloft with their torch lights on. "If the tax is not scrapped within 48 hours, we will be back again."

Hungary is one of the most financially stricken countries in Europe, with its debt ratio a staggering 79.2 percent of its gross domestic product. And Orban and his ministers see taxing the Internet users as the way to service that debt. As per the National Economy Minister Mihaly Varga, their tentative plan is to impose a $0.61 tax on every gigabyte of data consumed.

While Orban is adamant that the motive behind Internet tax is purely financial, critics see it as an attempt to undermine Hungary's vociferous digital media population. Moreover, in times when the rest of the world is trying to make the Internet more affordable – or even free – Orban's critics feel he is taking a backward step.

In addition to setbacks on financial front during his reign, Orban is also criticized for the growing level of corruption in Hungarian government and civil society. Just last week the U.S. diplomat Andre Goodfriend voiced his concerns about the increasing rate of crime and corruption in Hungarian society. This was after six Hungarian officials accused of corruption were denied U.S. visas.

According to a report by Transparency International, almost one-third of Hungary's top managers pay bribes to politicians. With that in mind, it would probably not be wise to hand the country's corrupt admin another source of income to abuse – especially not one that brings with it restrictions placed on the use of technology.

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