Tens of thousands of Hungarians took to the streets of Budapest on Sunday night to protest a proposed Internet tax that would levy a fee of 150 forints (approximately $.60) for every gigabyte of data traffic.
Collectively, Hungarian Internet users consumed 1.15 billion gigabytes of data last year, meaning the law could generate upwards of $720 million in government revenue— money that would go to paying down the country's deficit.
The new measure, introduced to parliament last week and backed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, would extend the country's current telecomm tax to Internet service. The ruling party said the tax would come out of the provider's profits, and would be capped at 700 forints per user (approximately $2.88).
Still, opponents claim that Internet Service Providers will find a way to pass the cost to its customers — a move that would further increase the digital divide.
"People with less disposable income will buy limited, lower-quality service, or give up home Internet use altogether," Kristztina Rozgonyi, former director of the Hungarian Communications Authority, told the Budapest Business Journal. She says the move will "further obstruct upward social mobility" by limiting some people's access to online learning tools.
The government's regulatory efforts were met with immediate backlash online. A Facebook group called "Hundreds of thousands of the Internet against tax" quickly attracted more than 200,000 supporters. The group, which claimed that the new tax would "curtail the freedom of the Internet," encouraged its supporters to attend Sunday's street demonstrations. More than 42,000 people said that they would show up, but only some 10,000 actually showed, according to local reports.
Videos of the protests were posted on YouTube.
Present at the protest was M. Andre Goodfriend, the United States Ambassador to Hungary. Goodfriend posted several photos of the affair on his personal Twitter account.
Demonstrators also targeted the headquarters of the ruling Fidesz party, throwing old computer hardware at the building.
Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.