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Uganda's social media tax – don't bother using VPNs says regulator

Uganda's social media tax – don't bother using VPNs says regulator

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has ordered the country's three mobile operators to block the use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) by subscribers hoping to bypass the newly enforced OTT tax.

Godfrey Mutabazi, Executive Director of the UCC recently met on Monday this week with representatives from MTN Uganda, Africell and Airtel Uganda to secure co-operation from the companies.

Mutabazi emphasised that while the key objective is to prevent attempts by subscribers to avoid paying the social media tax, those who do manage to connect to VPNs to access social media would actually be paying more.

"If you want to download VPN and access social media I know that you pay more than 200 shillings, do you know that? Yet they are slow and consume more data so that is very unwise. Secondly, the telco companies are trying to remove one by one - there are many (VPNs) but they are trying to block quite a few."

Mutabazi also dismissed allegations that the tax is a means to prevent free expression on social media.

He revealed that Facebook is among several social media services that have tried to convince him that the social media tax (which can be paid at daily, weekly or monthly intervals for Sh 200, Sh1400 or Sh6, 000 respectively) is not good practice.

"I know that when you talk to them they always bring some argument here, reasoning and all of that. I have spoken to them including Facebook. They have called me and I told them that 'yes, it is a good tax'. Let's get that Sh 200 and we will make infrastructure much better, we will encourage our youngsters to develop more and better applications, better systems and we will develop our country," said Mutabazi.

The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has called for the tax to be reversed because "the impact on consumers in Uganda - and particularly on low-income users - will be significant, and is likely to force many of these users to curb their internet usage, or to forego access entirely."

Looming legal action

Non-profit organisation Cyber Law Initiative Uganda announced later on Tuesday that it has filed a petition to Uganda's Constitutional Court to challenge the tax.

Advocate Kiiza Eron, who along with four other individuals helped to prepare the petition alongside Cyber Law Initiative Uganda, told local broadcaster NBS Television that the sections of the Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill 2018 allowing for imposition of the tax are not lawful.

"This tax is not meant to generate revenue. This tax is meant to clamp down on free expression. We are seeking for nullification of the law which we think is unreasonable, unnecessary and illegal," said Eron.

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