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Social Media Tax: Why African Countries Dare to regulate Internet

*Mobile users in Uganda to pay OTT tax to access Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, others
*Nigeria’s NCC insists it will not regulate the internet

 

Isaiah Onwuanumba

Government of Uganda has joined the list of countries that dare to regulate the Internet as the Government announced recently the beginning of social media tax from second quarter of 2018. Government of Morocco earlier banned all three telecoms service providers in the country against free mobile internet three years ago.

The East African country said Ugandans were required to pay the tax if they want to access services such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and many others.
Over the top (OTT) is a term used to refer to content providers that distribute streaming media as a standalone product directly to consumers over the Internet, bypassing telecommunications, multichannel television, and broadcast television platforms that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content.

The much-debated social media tax was initially proposed in April 2018 in an announcement in which Uganda’s government said that the tax will help boost the East Afrikan country’s revenue and help with national security.
Uganda’s Minister of Finance, Matia Kasaija is quoted as saying that “We’re looking for money to maintain the security of the country and extend electricity so that you people can enjoy more of social media, more often, more frequently.”

Although “national security” has been cited by Uganda’s government as the main reason for implementing what is also colloquially known as “gossip tax” in Uganda, it is most probably a measure by authorities in Uganda to censor citizens indirectly given how Internet access is already expensive in the country. Previously, Uganda’s government blocked social media platforms and instant messaging services during the countries previous elections only to cite the same reason, “national security”, for doing so.

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So far, Ugandans have reacted in anger and have come up with several ways of trying to bypass the social media tax such as installing VPN apps and using encrypted alternatives to WhatsApp such as the Signal app. It is also important to note how telecommunications companies in Uganda have co-operated with the implementation and collection of the social media tax.

However, Nigerian telecoms operators said OTT call application like Whatsapp, Viber, Netflix, among others erode their revenue and threatens over $70 billion.
Former MTN Nigeria CEO, Ferdi Moolman is quoted as saying that“the depletion of operator revenues by unlicensed providers of “over-the-top” telecoms services that do not have any physical presence; nor pay any taxes; nor make any significant contribution to employment or other socio-economic objectives of government in Nigeria, is worrisome. Companies like WhatsApp and Viber are eroding gains of Nigeria’s telecom companies.”

Nigerian Communications Commission has maintained that ti will not regulate the internet.
According to NCC’s report on of provision of OTT services, net neutrality or Internet neutrality is a regulatory concept which eliminates any type of discrimination in transmission and access of content on the Internet. It means all end users are able to access content, applications and services of their choice at the same level of service quality, Internet speed and price with no priority or degradation based on the type of content, applications or services. This will protect all innovators and consumers and preserve the Internet’s role as a core of free expression and democratic principles.

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The basic principle of Net neutrality proposes that networks do not discriminate between different data packets ensuring that innovators or content developers do not need to ask permission for new projects, making internet a collection of a large amount of information, analysis, opinions and services with no sole content provider or regulator.

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