New tax on mobile devices threatens digital inclusion in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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In September 2020, the Congolese government, through the Minister of Posts, Telecommunications and new Information and Communication Technologies, announced the establishment of the Mobile Device Registry (RAM).

In the announcement, the minister expressed great confidence that the registry would be an essential tool for the protection of Congolese users of mobile devices.

“We are happy to implement the RAM,” the minister said. “This database will allow us to limit the market of counterfeit mobile devices, combat mobile device theft and improve the quality of the mobile phone network by blocking non-compliant devices with international standards.”

Under the new arrangement, all mobile devices on Congolese territory have to pay a monthly fee ranging from the equivalent of US$0.17 for 2G devices to more than US$1.17 for 3G and 4G devices over a six-month period.

According to the datareportal site, the number of mobile connections in the Democratic Republic of Congo grew by nearly one million between 2019 and 2020. Civil society organizations have expressed fears of seeing this trend reverse due to the implementation of this new tax on mobile devices in the country.

“This decree thus adds a sixth tax benefiting the Regulatory Authority of Posts and Telecommunications of Congo to the five others it already levies on operators in its sector,” declared the non-profit organization Rudi International in a statement condemning the RAM.

The GSMA, an international organization representing the interests of cell phone companies, had proposed to the government, through the minister in charge of New Information and Communication Technologies, a free system that would have had no impact on the cost of using a mobile device in  DR Congo.

The GSMA structure even presented to the Congolese government alternatives financing methods based on the models adopted in other sub-Saharan countries, which use a combination of regulation and a legal framework to prevent falsification and sales of stolen or counterfeit mobile devices.

 A study carried out by the firm Ernst & Young as part of an analysis of the potential benefits of a more efficient tax structure for the mobile phone sector in the DRC, concluded that taxation is also a hindrance to digital inclusion in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Instead of making efforts to strengthen the penetration rate of mobile telephony in the country, this tax will only have the opposite effect as phones will become much more expensive in the market,” said Rudi International in its statement criticising the tax. According to the non-profit, the RAM should simply be suspended.

Collectif 24 also said that a tax on mobile devices would strike a blow against freedom of expression and the right of access to information.

“The implementation of this new tax will only reduce the number of telecommunications users in DR Congo and strengthen the digital divide,” the rights organization stated in a press release. “In fact, access to telecommunications services will become more and more expensive for the peaceful citizen already affected by the current economic crisis. The implementation of this service will have a negative impact on mobile operators, as their turnover will decline significantly with the reduction in the number of subscribers. The sector is likely to experience stagnation, particularly with the reduction in investments. This will negatively affect the national GDP.”

Evoking the violation of the universal principle enshrined in article 4 point 30 of the framework law of October 16, 2002 related to telecommunications in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the national deputy Auguy Kalonji approached the Prime Minister with a request for the tax on mobile devices to be cancelled.

“The spirit of the principle of universal service,” said Kalonji, “obliges public authorities to provide the population with electronic communication services at an affordable price, regardless of their geographical location in the national territory.”

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