Some who move to Switzerland might not be aware that they are almost certainly required to pay one of the world’s highest broadcasting licence fees. An annual Swiss licence costs CHF 451.10 per household. The onus is on you to determine if you are liable, sign up with Billag, a subsidiary of Swisscom, and pay. Just because you haven’t registered doesn’t mean you are OK. Fines for non-compliance run as high as CHF 5,000.
Billag AG collects around CHF 1.3 billion per year from about four million households and businesses. The per capita cost of broadcasting in Switzerland is always going to be high. It is the unavoidable result of being small and having four national languages.
Not everyone in Switzerland is happy paying these largely compulsory fees. A campaign was mounted to eliminate them before being dropped in May 2015. In June 2015, a referendum designed to make households automatically liable when they register their presence at the commune office, was accepted by a small majority. Currently those with no television or radio devices, including appropriately equipped computers, don’t have to pay. Under the new rules, not yet in force, only diplomats, some beneficiaries and a few others will be exempt. Not owning certain devices won’t get you off the hook.
In January 2016, a new referendum officially passed the requited hurdle of 100,000 valid signatures allowing a popular vote on whether to keep the fee or not. Those behind the No Billag initiative aim to eliminate the broadcasting fee. The initiative won’t appear on voting slips before late 2018 at the earliest however.
Everyone on a government telecommunications commission said today that the fee should be kept, and recommended voters reject the initiative. According to the commission, eliminating the charge would reduce the level of public service without saving taxpayer money. In addition, they said it is important to offer a widespread objective news service covering Switzerland’s different linguistic regions.
Those behind the initiative argue that people shouldn’t be subject to a hidden tax that is used to finance programmes they don’t want.
In addition, the commission dropped a motion aimed at maintaining a ban on the state broadcaster advertising on its website. It thinks this is OK if the money earned is used for specific activities such non-state media content.
Switzerland’s Council of States (Upper House), will present its view on the initiative on 8 March 2017.