By Omobayo Azeez
Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), a global coalition for the internet, has urged the Nigerian government and those of other developing countries to remove all taxes associated with telecommunications services.
The body described this as imperative for the people to afford the services during this COVID- 19 crisis period and beyond.
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It also advocates public funds dedicated to expanding connectivity for unserved and underserved communities that commercial providers do not reach, explaining that these funds are established by the government and are typically financed by mandatory contributions by mobile network operators, telecommunications providers or utilities.
In its 8-page policy recommendations for governments on COVID- 19 obtained by business a.m., the A4AI noted that the pandemic has made it clear that internet access is not only an essential public good and basic need, but a lifeline.
“It has further underlined that there are many facets of the digital divide around the world. From Nigeria to Bangladesh, Brazil to the USA, governments are faced with the urgent need to secure affordable connectivity for their citizens,” it stated.
The body, therefore, advised governments to “remove consumer-facing taxes on data and internet services — such as communication service taxes (CST) and social media taxes — that increase connectivity costs for consumers; Remove luxury taxation on internet-enabled devices to lower barriers for poor or low-income communities and marginalised groups to connect”.
It also urged governments to utilise existing special funds to subsidise digital devices and provide free Wi-Fi internet services to low income or marginalised communities.
The group added that governments also need to “establish or support digital inclusion initiatives and funds to support the distribution of internet-enabled devices that can be used for online learning activities.
“There is a need for governments to expand services to underserved or unserved communities by making it easier for smaller companies to enter the market and alternative models like community networks to thrive.
“This can be done by freeing up the needed spectrum to increase traffic and loosening regulations to encourage new entrants.
“Governments also need to encourage increased sharing of network resources between operators to ensure quality, reliable service to all customers, regardless of their network. This will further expand access, especially in rural and peri-urban areas with limited service providers,” the group advised.
For telecom operators, A4AI said the companies must take urgent action to make sure as many people as possible can connect to their networks.
It also urged the telcos to increase data allowances on all mobile data packages.