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Sweden: Public TV and Radio Service Fee System Reformed, New Tax Introduced

(Dec. 14, 2018) On November 14, 2018, the Swedish Parliament voted to replace the Swedish public service fee (tv-avgiften), which, under current rules, is paid only by households that have a television set. As of January 1, 2019, the fee will be replaced by a public service tax equal to 1% of the annual income of an individual eighteen years and older, and capped at 1,300 Swedish Krona (SEK) (about US$140). (Kulturutskottets betänkande 2018/19:KrU2 Långsiktig finansiering och stärkt oberoende för public service [Long Term Financing and Increased Independence for Public Service] (Culture Committee Report), Swedish Parliament website.)

The history of the Swedish television fee (radio & tv avgift) dates back to 1907, when the King of Sweden issued radio licenses. After the Kungliga Telegrafstyrelsen (Royal Telegraph Board) took on that responsibility in 1924, the fee was used to pay for the expansion of the radio network. The radio fee remained at SEK10 from 1925 to 1951. When the TV fee was introduced in 1956, it was set at SEK25. (Historik om avgiften, RADIOTJÄNST (last visited Dec. 12, 2018).)

The currently in-force Television Fee Act provides that all households that have a TV receiver (tvmottagare) must pay an annual fee of SEK2,400 (about US$260). (2a § Lag om finansiering av radio och TV i allmänhetens tjänst [Act on the Financing of Public Radio and TV] (Svensk författningssamling [SFS] 1989:41), Swedish Code of Statutes website.) TV receivers are defined as devices that can receive television broadcasts. (Id.) Such devices include digital TV boxes, videos with a channel chooser, digital video recorders (DVRs), and computers with TV-viewing capabilities. (Avgiften, RADIOTJÄNST (last visited Dec. 12, 2018).)

The new law will result in a lower fee for one-person households and for persons with low income. As only persons aged eighteen and over are subject to the new tax, a two-parent household will pay no more than approximately SEK2,600 (about US$285) annually, a marginal increase in the current SEK2,400 fee. One-person households will see a decrease from SEK2,400 to approximately SEK1,300 (about US$104), or less. Persons who make less than SEK13,600 (about US$1,500) a month will pay even less. The government has estimated that the revenue from the new fee will equal the current level of SEK8.4 billion (about US$920 million). (Långsiktig finansiering och stärkt oberoende för public service, Kulturutskottets betänkande 2018/19:KrU2.)

The fee will take effect January 1, 2019, and be paid retroactively when Swedes submit their tax returns.

Reforming the public radio and TV service fee system has been contemplated for years in Sweden. The main argument for reform that the parliamentary Committee on Culture referred to in its proposal for legislative action was the necessity of establishing a form of financing that was sustainable in the long run, was considered legitimate by Swedish citizens, and guaranteed the independence of the Swedish state media corporations (Sveriges Television, Sveriges Radio, and Utbildningsradion). (Långsiktig finansiering och stärkt oberoende för public service, Kulturutskottets betänkande 2018/19:KrU2).