The price of accessing telecoms services in Myanmar is set to soar after the junta announced it will levy a 20,000 kyat commercial tax on the sale of SIM cards and a 15% tax on the incomes of internet providers.
The new tax law comes after almost a year of boycotts aimed at cutting off revenues for military-owned telecoms providers, as well as a nationwide campaign urging people to avoid paying taxes and utility bills to the junta.
In a statement published in the military’s Global New Light of Myanmar on Thursday, the junta said most other developing countries levy such taxes, and that doing so would reduce the “effects triggered by extreme use of internet services on the employment of the people and mental sufferings of new generation students.”
An executive member of the Kyaukse University Student Union said the junta’s rationale for the new tax was “a very senseless and desperate excuse.”
“They don’t have any budget left, so they’re all out of options,” he said. “They said they’re worried about students but us students hate their entire existence.”
Before Myanmar underwent economic liberalisation over a decade ago, a SIM card cost the equivalent of thousands of US dollars and access to a slow and heavily censored internet was only available for a wealthy few.
Prices began to plummet after Thein Sein’s reformist regime was installed in 2011, and by 2014 a SIM card cost just 1,500 kyat, giving tens of millions of people access to internet services for the first time.
The students’ union executive said the new taxes would send Myanmar back to the “dark ages” before the internet was widely accessible.
Commercial taxes for services are typically levied at 5%, meaning the new 15% rate for internet providers is far above average.
One Yangon-based internet user said the tax was an attempt by the military to further control the flow of information online.
Numerous military figures and junta-linked companies have been banned from Facebook since last year’s coup. The junta has banned access to the platform, but many users are skirting the restrictions with VPNs.
The economic turmoil caused by the coup, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic, has driven up the prices of basic commodities like fuel while the value of the kyat has plummeted. The new telecoms taxes will heap more hardship on families even as the World Bank estimates that poverty rates are soaring across the country.
Last month telecoms operators announced that the price of internet data would double following an order from the junta’s communications ministry.