“Taxing communication is regressive”; A Response to Uganda’s OTT Taxes
Written by communications specialist Kenneth Kalungi and edited by Quinn Needham.
What is the OTT tax?
On July 1st 2018 a tax on “over the top” (OTT) services became effective across Uganda. According to MTN Data Share, a telecommunications company that serves eleven countries across Africa including Uganda, “OTT services have been defined to mean ‘the transmission or receipt of voice or messages over the internet protocol network and includes access to virtual private networks.’” Popular sites including WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter are among the nearly sixty web applications subjected to the tax. Below, communications specialist Kenneth Kalungi shares his thoughts on the newly introduced tax.
This tax will certainly influence our society by limiting users’ access to social media depending on whether or not they can afford to pay the tax. It also has a ripple effect on access to information, which is a human right, and it will impact the speed and quality of information flow. These things are all essential for development. Access to social networks has particularly played a significant role in the growth of innovation and improvement in the general welfare of Ugandans. Social networks have also led to the “death of distance” by increasing access to markets in Uganda. We risk reversing the benefits for the majority of the masses who are hard-pressed to afford this tax.
As a communication specialist, the women and the clergy I serve rely on new media a lot. It’s a big part of how I communicate with audiences. I use it to distribute information and at the same time get useful feedback that informs my decision-making processes. But now, communication professionals like myself will be forced to revert to other means of communication that are ultimately more costly to avoid paying the tax.
Social Media platforms, particularly WhatsApp, provide a cheaper and more efficient alternative for project teams to communicate and update working groups. For example, Harper Hill Global has been creating different group pages to send text information. It has been cost effective and allows the organization to connect people from the USA, DR Congo and Nigeria through Skype. Unfortunately, the OTT tax now means a reduction in the number of team members online, as many are reluctant to pay a tax which they fear will not be appropriately used by authorities to improve service delivery.
So, obviously I am not the biggest fan of taxing the Internet (not mutually exclusive from social media). We should be focused on making communication more efficient and free. Taxing communication is regressive. Taxing the use of the internet in any shape or form is terrible.
Special thanks to MTN Data Share’s website: