The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia and Bloggers of Zambia have noted with trepidation the cabinet decision to pass legislation that will increase the cost of internet use by introducing a 30 Ngwee tariff on Internet voice calls in Zambia.
We are also worried with the fast speed at which the government is moving to enact the Cybercrime and Cyber Security Bill aimed at regulating Internet usage, especially social media in Zambia.
We are concerned about the proposed tariff of 30 Ngwe per day because it is a major threat to freedom of expression, access to information, media rights, freedom of assembly online an affront to the enjoyment of digital rights.
The cabinet approval of the issuance of a Statutory Instrument that will facilitate the introduction of the tariff to be charged through mobile phone operators and internet providers is an affront to net neutrality, and affordable connectivity.
This is a form of double and punitive taxation and taxing individual users in lieu of the social media companies that actually make money. We are concerned about this proposal because it falls within a pattern of government clampdown on online expression as we have noted of late.
We want to state that the proposed 30 Ngwee tariff on Internet calls will limit access to basic rights and it will harm businesses.
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. Why should we make this expensive in the midst of already over-taxed residents, coupled with high poverty levels?
We are of the view that the underlying objective in the passing of this legislation is to stifle free expression rights of millions of Zambians who increasingly depend on online tools to communicate. We believe that this is a systematic attempt of censoring online platforms.
Recently, the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) fined Zambia’s three mobile phone service providers for offering poor services. This is evidence that citizens have been receiving expensive and low quality services, hence taking advantage of cheaper Internet calls.
We challenge telecommunication companies to comment on the proposed tariff and state whether they are not making profits from the current business environment.
Additionally, we ask whether there been any complaint from service providers citing major loss of business because citizens are making Internet calls. Citizens pay for both data and airtime. We also request for statistics and the evidence to warrant the tariff.
With regard to the Cybercrime and Cyber Security Bill, our view remains that the process of enacting these laws must be made open and transparent for input from citizens, bloggers, journalists and activists.
The process of drafting internet laws has been closed and non-participatory, prompting suspicions that the laws contain clauses that will close internet spaces. We have noted that similar Internet laws in Egypt, Tanzania and Kenya have caused so much consternation as some of the clauses in the laws are purposely vague and they do not promote free speech and freedom of assembly online.
We demand that the process of enacting the Access to Information law and operationalisation of the Media and Communications Policy be expedited together with the cyber laws.
We call on government to withdraw the tariff and rather consider investing in the sector to ensure that all Zambians have access to affordable, reliable and open Internet.
We also call upon bloggers, journalists and activists to join our clarion call for a free, open and safe internet ecosystem for all, including women and girls. Our campaign both on Facebook and Twitter is using the hashtag #OpenSpaceZM.