The slapping of extra c on internet services, in addition to a two percent increase in taxes on voice calls, may at the outset seem justified. Way too many hours are wasted every day in useless chats over social media, and the cheaper it gets to call people, the greater the scope for abuse of telephones and mobile phones too. But that would be a myopic view.
In this country of under 29 million people there are over 37 million mobile phone subscriptions. Of course, many subscribe to more than one plan. Yet it is noteworthy that overall internet penetration in Nepal has crossed 61 percent, and at least half the population is believed to carry smartphones. These datasets suggest that people from all walks of life, and from all economic backgrounds, are using internet and mobile phones.
Yes, there is some wastage of time online. But these amenities also create a wealth of opportunities for everyone. With the greater penetration of phones and internet, vegetable farmers in rural areas can now directly negotiate with the wholesalers, thereby cutting out the middlemen who typically pocket 15-20 percent of the sale value. Cheap calls and internet voice services allow the families to stay in regular touch with their sons and daughters toiling abroad; there can be no substitute for physical presence of your loved ones, but the voice and images transmitted over Skype is the next best thing. TED talks and education courses offered over YouTube make Nepalis more knowledgeable and better prepared for modern job market.
If fact, there are countless other productive and creative uses of internet and phone services. Uganda earlier this year imposed a ‘social media tax’, as most of its citizens were using social media platforms to “spread gossip”. In the view of many Ugandans, the real reason for the tax is that the government of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in office continuously for 32 years, wants to stifle dissent. Could the Nepali government, which is also increasingly accused of authoritarian tendencies, also be up to no good? By increasing taxes the ruling communist party is in fact going against its own election manifesto.
Rather than luxuries, internet and phones have become modern-day necessities without which it is hard to function. Again, the rich folks will easily be able to afford the extra 13 percent tax. It is the less well-off, the proletariat whose cause the communist party champions, who will struggle to pay.
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