Uganda introduces 12% internet data levy, critics say move will stifle online access

KAMPALA, April 30 (Reuters) - Uganda says it has introduced a 12% tax on internet data, potentially hiking prices for online access in the east African country where consumers are already paying some of the world's highest internet costs.

Data costs in African countries are high relative to other regions, a fact blamed for slow internet penetration and limited use even for those connected, according to digital advocacy group the World Wide Web Foundation.

Uganda's Parliament tweeted late on Thursday that lawmakers had passed the 'Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill, 2021' which introduced the 12% duty on internet data.

The levy is among a raft of new taxes the government is introducing in the financial year due to start in July to help boost revenues and pay a ballooning public debt. read more

Many Ugandans have criticised the move, saying it will further impede access to the internet at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has made online services even more crucial for sections of the economy, like education.

Dorothy Mukasa, chief executive of Unwanted Witness, a digital communications rights watchdog said the tax measure would make internet in Uganda unaffordable, in addition to it being notoriously slow.

"Internet has become a factor of production ... for any investor to make investment decision they have to make sure there's good internet connectivity for them to be able to function," she said.

"But now the same government which is wooing investors is the same government hiking cost of production ... connectivity is poor and now the cost is so high, how will somebody invest and get value for money?"

The government of President Yoweri Museveni has already been criticised for maintaining a ban on access to Facebook, which it cut off in January ahead of elections.

Museveni was declared the winner of the Jan. 14 poll, but the United States has said the election was neither free nor fair, and has imposed travel sanctions on some officials.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema. Editing by Mark Potter

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