President of the Benin Republic Patrice Talon has adopted a decree, created in July 2018, which prescribes levies on telecom operators based on taxes related to use of OTT services and the internet.
According to Internet Sans Frontiers (ISF), the decree requires a contribution of 5% on the amount excluding tax of communications (voice, SMS, Internet) and a fee of 5 FCFA per megabyte consumed by the user of OTT services including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Viber and Telegram.
ISF has since criticised the decision saying it “contradicts the Benin government’s ambition to make the digital economy a strategic sector for economic recovery, and increases the cost of Internet access, already very high in this country.”
ISF’s West Africa Coordinator, Qémal Affagnon, stated, “Regulations to tax the use of messaging applications or social networks are tariff barriers to free expression, which must be denounced. We understand the willingness of governments to make all digital players, including content platforms and internet access providers, contribute to the financing of digital development in Africa, but to put the burden of this funding on the shoulders of users is a an unfair choice that violates freedom of expression, and threatens everyone’s access to a free and open internet.”
Paradigm Initiative (PI) has also issued a statement condemning the decision as well the alarming trend in Africa countries. There have been reported cases of Uganda where taxation has been imposed on social media platforms to curb ‘Lugambo’ (gossip); bloggers in Tanzania having to register for a fee to post tickets; and Zambia where a tax of about US$0.03 has been approved on internet calls in order to protect large telcos from losing money.
Paradigm’s Director of Programs, Tope Ogundipe, notes that the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria has been pushing for a similar practice to be adopted in Nigeria based on the view that OTT service providers are eating into the revenue telcos used to enjoy.
The digital advocacy group said taxes will stifle internet adoption which is just beginning to develop in these regions.
It revealed that internet penetration in Benin Republic is at 33.1%, Zambia at 41.2%, Uganda at 42.9% and Nigeria at 50.2% and these policies will simply worsen these levels.