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Zambia announces tax on internet calls

Staff Writer |
Zambia will tax phone calls made over the internet to protect traditional telecoms companies, the government said, a move activists warned would stifle freedom of expression.

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Increased popularity of internet telephony services like Skype, WhatsApp and Viber “threatens the telecommunications industry and jobs in companies such as (operators) Zamtel, Airtel and MTN,” government spokesperson Dora Siliya said in a statement.

“Government has, therefore, introduced a 30 ngwee (US$0,03) charge a day tariff on internet phone calls.”

The policy, which has yet to become law, follows Uganda's recent decision to impose a US$0,05 daily levy on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, which was met with protests by opponents.

Siliya said the fee would be collected by mobile phone operators and internet providers.

While WhatsApp and similar apps offer end-to end encryption of calls, mobile phone carriers and internet providers can tell from the volume of data that a voice or video call is being made, even if they can't listen in to the conversation.

Internet has become important for civil society in Zambia, and activists worry the tax will curtail freedom of expression.

Communications minister Brian Mushimba said the levy on internet calls was purely economic.

“We don't believe in stifling the media; we believe in freedom of expression, and this decision is purely an economic decision because we have lost income, and so we are saying if Skype, WhatsApp are making money, how about us?”

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