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New research explores impact of social media taxes in East and Southern Africa

Web Foundation · June 27, 2019

Today, while half of the global population is now online, less than a quarter of people in African countries are connected.

What is keeping people offline? One of the biggest factors is cost. Individuals in Africa pay, on average, 9 percent of monthly income for 1GB of data, compared to 5 percent globally, according to the latest survey from the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI).

Despite already topping the charts as the continent with the highest financial barrier to internet access, a number of governments across Africa have recently raised the cost to connect further by implementing new social media taxes.

These consumer-facing internet taxes on some of the most popular social media services exacerbate the already high cost of connectivity, making it impossible for many individuals to get online.

A4AI’s latest report explores how social media taxes in Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia are affecting the ability of people — in particular, women — to connect and access the internet’s benefits.

The report features interviews with experts and focus groups to understand the experiences women have had with the taxes, and finds:

  • Participants had little awareness or understanding of the rationale behind the taxes, due to a lack of communication and little public consultation from the governments ahead of the taxes being introduced.
  • The ability of people to pay the taxes depended largely on their socio-demographic status. The taxes are therefore likely to deepen digital inequality between the rich and the poor.
  • One of the main barriers keeping many women offline is skills. The tax is likely to exclude those who could most benefit from the ease of use of select services, widening the digital divide between those with and without digital skills.
  • With higher costs preventing individuals from participating in online discussions and accessing online government services, the taxes were also believed to have a negative effect on the freedom of expression and civic engagement.

To prevent the digital divide from growing starker, particular attention must be paid to the impact the taxes have on women and other groups that are traditionally excluded from digital spaces.

Read the report to explore the findings and recommendations in full. 

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