The Ugandan Government has pledged to block access to VPNs across the country after usage spiked in the wake of the introduction of the country’s so-called social media tax.
As we reported yesterday, VPN use in Uganda has skyrocketed over the weekend after the Social Media tax officially came into force on 1st July.
The so-called ‘Social Media Tax’
The tax requires any Ugandan to pay 200 Ugandan shillings a day to the Government if they want to use any of the most popular social media sites in the country, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Skype and Viber.
As we explained, while that only equates to around 5 US cents or 3 pence, it is still a significant amount in a country where the majority of people still earn less than a dollar a day.
Needless to say, this new tax has gone down like a lead balloon in Uganda, and many citizens have been looking for ways to avoid it. The solution most seem to be turning to is a VPN.
By using a VPN, Ugandan’s can hide their online activities from their ISP and so avoid having to pay the punitive new tax.
A misguided pledge to block VPNs
Inevitably, the Government has cottoned on to this ruse pretty fast and the head of the Uganda Communications Commission has already made the bold pledge to block access to VPNs across the country.
Speaking to the Ugandan Observer newspaper, Godfrey Mutabazi said that Telecoms firms in Uganda were already beginning to block access to VPNs and pledged that “slowly they are cleaning up all those VPNs.”
It is telling however that he admitted that they would be unable to block all of the VPNs on the market but insisted that more and more would become unavailable every day.
It is a bold claim to make and one which, so far, there is little evidence to support. As we noted in yesterday’s article, Google searches for VPNs has hit the highest level on their measurement.
It will take VPNs a while to release data on the surge of subscriptions they have seen in Uganda around the start of July, but it is likely to be sizable.
It is also extremely difficult, if not impossible, to block VPNs. Countries with significantly more economic power than Uganda, such as China and Russia, have tried, and so far, failed to block VPNs across their country.
Quite how the Uganda Communications Commission expects their countries Telecoms firms to succeed where these global superpowers have failed remains to be seen.
Uganda’s false claims on VPN prices
Godfrey Mutabazi also made the claim that using a VPN would ultimately be more expensive than paying the Social Media tax. “If you think it is cheaper to use [a] VPN than paying 200 Ugandan shillings, I think it is very unwise to think that because the data consumption under VPN is very high.”
His statement is however completely nonsensical because no VPNs charge on the basis of data use. The best VPNs will charge a standard monthly subscription and for this, you have unlimited use of their network.
While this charge may be higher than the tax for a single user, as we explained yesterday, there are ways around this.
IPVanish recently increased the number of simultaneous connections permitted on each account to 10 devices. That means a group of 10 Ugandans could sign up together for a price of 84 Ugandan shillings a day, saving 116 Ugandan shillings per day each.
There are also a number of free VPNs on the market and while we generally advise against using free VPNs, it seems likely that some Ugandans will opt to take the risk.
It is possible that the Government may choose to try and block these free services, and, in all likelihood, those providers are unlikely to make much effort to enable Ugandans to stay connected.
But the reputable providers will all fight any efforts to block them in Uganda, so smart Ugandan internet users can still get together, avoid their Government’s ludicrous new tax, and enjoy all the benefits of using a VPN when online.