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Myanmar Junta Raises SIM and Internet Taxes to Silence Opposition

Myanmar’s military regime has increased taxes on internet usage in the latest effort to restrict the flow of information since the coup last year.

On Saturday the regime introduced changes to the Union Taxation Law, increasing tax on SIM cards and internet services. There is now a 20,000 kyat (US$11) commercial tax on SIMs and a 15 percent tax on internet service providers’ income.

The junta’s Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that the charges would reduce the “effects triggered by extreme use of internet services on the employment of the people and mental sufferings of new generation students”.

Telecoms sources said the regime wants to limit internet access and restrict the flow of information to limit anti-regime activities and open discussion on social media.

“The main intention is to get taxes and restrict internet use by increasing prices,” said a telecoms insider who asked for anonymity.

“If internet costs increase, online activity will fall. This is another way of restricting internet use without imposing an internet blackout,” he added.

In December, the regime forced telecom operators to double the cost of mobile data while Wi-Fi is only available in major cities. Previously, 1,000 kyats bought 900MB of data but now only 500MB.

“On Facebook, I used to be able to watch any video that popped up. But now I can’t afford to watch videos. I only read posts and look at photos to save data. And I haven’t been using Twitter and Instagram lately,” a young man from Yangon told The Irrawaddy.

Wi-Fi charges are due to rise with the tax rises. Minimum Wi-Fi prices were previously between 25,000 and 30,000 kyats per month for 10 to 15 megabits per second. Telecoms sources estimate the minimum prices may increase to 45,000 kyats per month.

“It might mean more people can’t afford the internet,” said an online trader.

Education will also be affected as COVID-19 and military rule have forced many classes online.

“The spyware the military regime reportedly forces telecoms operators to use cannot track customers’ mobile data. Perhaps, the regime wants people to use phone calls and SMS,” said a telecoms source.

Mobile internet services have been cut since August last year in much of Kachin and Chin states and Magwe, Sagaing and Mandalay regions amid regular resistance attacks.

According to the recent Freedom on the Net 2021, an annual internet freedom study by Freedom House, Myanmar only ranks above China and Iran for internet freedom.


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