Internet providers to blackout websites in protest against imposition of tax
KARACHI: Pakistani bloggers and internet providers on Monday decided to blackout their websites in protest against the recently imposed taxes by the Punjab government on internet services, according to a joint statement issued by the digital publishers of Pakistan at a press conference.
The Punjab government – through an SRO – imposed a whopping 19.5 percent tax on all kinds of internet usage for those with Rs1,500 or above monthly bills or 2Mbps and above broadband speeds, it said.
This tax has been imposed on all kinds of internet services in Punjab, including 3G, 4G, DSL, EVDO, fiber, etc. Other provinces and centre (Islamabad) are likely to follow the suite, it said.
Digital publishers, who have support from cellular mobile operators, banks, consumer associations, PASHA and ISPAK along with the civil society, said the country’s top websites are already running black home-screens in protest against taxes on the internet.
This country-wide internet blackout campaign is likely to be supported and acted upon by thousands of Pakistani websites and bloggers who have demanded immediate withdrawal of the taxes on the internet.
According to a joint statement from digital publishers, this tax by the Punjab government is going to hamper the current 3G / 4G uptake that has reached 15 million subscriptions in just one year of its launch.
After several delays – spanning many years – Pakistan auctioned 3G and 4G licences last year and the telecom operators invested $1.1 billion on spectrum auction only. Several hundred million dollars were also spent on the network upgradation; however, telecom operators – earlier this week – said that their future investments on the network rollout and upcoming spectrum auction is conditional with the reversal of this tax.
Punjab is likely to collect around Rs3 billion in taxes from the sector this year; however, corresponding negative growth on the internet uptake due to these taxes will cause the national economy an estimated loss of Rs100 billion to Rs200 billion in five years (Reference PLUM research on Pakistan).
Studies show that 10 percent uptake in broadband subscriptions increases national GDP by 1.5 percent and slowness of internet uptake due to these taxes is only going to harm the already struggling economy of Pakistan.
The Punjab government, on the one hand, is making efforts for digitisation of the province through several initiatives from PITB and distribution of several hundred thousands of laptops each year, while on the other, it is imposing taxes on the internet to block the growth and academic potential of the youth.
New taxes are also going to block development work in e-education, e-health and e-banking sectors, they added.