Analysis: KASONDE KASOLO
EARLY this week, Government introduced a 30 Ngwee a day tariff on internet phone calls.The tariff was arrived at after Government had noted an increase in the use of internet phone calls at the expense of traditional phone calls.
This development threatened the telecommunications industry and jobs in companies such as Airtel, MTN and Zamtel.
Cabinet has since approved the issuance of a Statutory Instrument (SI) that will facilitate the introduction of the 30 ngwee tariff to be charged through mobile phone operators and internet service providers.
Research shows that a lot of citizens with smart phones are using WhatsApp, skype, and Viber to make phone calls.
It is estimated that Zambia has about 7 million WhatsApp users and most users are addicted to various data services being offered by mobile service providers.
This entails that more people are using data service calls than the usual traditional calls.
Government and the technocrats analysed the usage of data calls by the users, hence the decision to introduce such a tax.
From the 30 ngwee tariff, Government is expected to be collecting K25 million per month.
The money will be invested back to telecom companies and government for infrastructure development.
However, the tariff has received mixed feelings as many people are wondering how the SI will be implemented and effected.
The Media Institutions for Southern Africa (MISA) and Zambian Bloggers also indicated that the proposed tariff of 0.30 Ngwee per day will be a major threat to freedom of expression, access to information, media rights, freedom of assembly online an affront to the enjoyment of digital rights.
It further says this is a form of double and punitive taxation by taxing individual users in lieu of the social media companies that actually make money.
MISA also says the proposed tariff on internet calls is a threat to entrepreneurship and innovation as many youths and other citizens are using the internet platforms to advance their socio-economic activities. Citizens across the country mobilise themselves using Internet calls.
Internet calls vs traditional voice calls
It is very important to understand the difference between normal traditional voice calls and internet voices calls.
Internet calling is often called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Let’s say user to make voice calls over the internet, using applications (apps) such as WhatsApp, skype and viber.
You can use VoIP on all mobile service providers like Airtel, MTN and Zamtel by paying daily, weekly and monthly plans that are available on a Pay-as you go and post-paid services.
The steps and principles involved in originating VoIP telephone calls are similar to traditional digital telephony and involve signalling, channel set-up, digitisation of the analog voice signals, and encoding.
Instead of being transmitted over a circuit-switched network, the digital information is packetised, and transmission occurs as IP packets over a packet-switched network.
Traditional voice phone calls are made over the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).
Originally, the PSTN was fixed-line analog network. However, the PSTN network is mainly digital.
It refers to a mix of telephone lines, fibre optic cables and cellular networks.
What 0.30 Ngwee entails
It is very important to realise that the 30 ngwee tariff or tax will be deducted from an internet call on a daily basis. The current scenario is that whether it is an ordinary call or a data call, users are still paying tax on airtime.
The new tax or tariff comes into effect once a data call is made using WhatsApp, skype, viber or any other form of voice application.
The new tax kicks in and will be deducted from the user’s account. This will force consumers or users to be spending more on data bundles despite the tax on airtime remaining the same.
It is therefore important to understand that Government is exploring various avenues of raising funds.
It is hoped that once Government collects this revenue, it will be ploughed back into the telecommunications industry as other social sectors.
Before Government came up with this tax, there must have been consultations internally with the technocrats within the respective ministries.
Benefit to mobile service providers
The current three mobile service providers, namely Airtel, MTN and Zamtel, are not going to benefit anything from this tax is because currently the said service providers are already being taxed.
Government will be the major beneficiary as there is a revenue gap in the telecommunications sector hence introducing this tax.
The author is an independent information technology.
Analysis: KASONDE KASOLO