On July 1st, Uganda’s Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill went into effect, placing taxes on electronic transactions and social media use. The regulation compels telecom companies to charge mobile access for sites like Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
Customers must now pay 200 Ugandan shillings, or $0.05, per day to use social media platforms. Before the tax, 1 GB of broadband access cost more than 15% of the average monthly income. Because the price increase targets mobile users, it disproportionately impacts low earners. As a result, “the tax will likely push basic connectivity further out of reach for millions,” according to Juliet Nanfuka* of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), an ICT policy think tank.
In response, a telecom company filed a lawsuit against the government for violating net neutrality principles, claiming that it “hinders freedom of speech and innovation.” However, the tax may have little impact on local advocacy efforts; in a 2016 report, CIPESA found that although other policies in Uganda have blocked access to social media sites, they have not stopped digital activists or civil society organizations from petitioning the government or expressing dissent.
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* Juliet Nanfuka is a 2018 Open Internet for Democracy Leader, an initiative managed by NDI, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) that empowers emerging leaders from across the globe to build their advocacy and organizing skills to protect internet freedom.