Soon, social media users running to virtual private networks (VPN) applications to evade paying tax on Over-the-Top (OTT) services will have no where hide anymore as telecommunications companies have promised to block VPN usage.
According to Uganda Communications Commission executive director, Godfrey Mutabazi telecoms will slowly, one by one block VPN applications that are aiding Ugandans to evade paying the social media tax.
The social media tax took effect on June 1 at the start of the 2018/2019 financial year. The tax has triggered uproar among Ugandans - some have grudgingly paid it - while others are chest thumping for evading it to access social sites using VPNs applications.
VPN enables internet users to hide their Internet Protocol (IP) address. The IP addresses are distributed geographically and can be used to identify internet users' location. People with VPN unblocked their social media sites without paying the tax.
Mutabazi said that telecoms promised and are already blocking VPNs. But he added that there are many VPNs, admitting that not all of them can be blocked. Mutabazi further argued that those who are going for VPNs instead of paying the social media tax are taking an unwise decision. He said VPNs consume more data than the daily Shs 200 tax.
"If you’re saying that everybody is on VPN ,there is no evidence. However the telecoms are saying they’re slowly they are cleaning up all those VPNs, they are closing some. You know there are so many of them. On a daily basis they are doing the blockage. You know you cant be 100% but they are doing it." said Mutabazi.
"However another point, if you think it is cheaper to use VPN than paying Shs 200/day, I think it is very unwise to think that because the data consumption under VPN is very high, I think you’re aware of that."
Mutabazi said Ugandans should pay the tax instead of going for VPNs. "It's a government decision it's not a UCC decision. People should pay tax. It's a law, if the government says pay tax, you should pay," he said.
On Thursday telecom companies notified customers in a joint statement that they would be required to pay Shs 200 per day, Shs 1,400 for a week or Shs 6,000 for a month to access social media lest they would be blocked.
When contacted for comment on blocking VPNs, MTN Uganda spokesperson Val Okecho had no immediate comment. However, he promised to consult and call back. It would seem that internet service providers would have no urgency to block VPN applications as they still earn from data usage anyway.
A constitutional petition challenging the tax is expected to be filed in court tomorrow. In February 2016, internet users in Uganda downloaded over 1.5 million VPN applications in a space of three days when the telecommunication companies blocked social media following a government directive.